Tuesday, July 31

Catoptromancy

I look into the light. Galadriel pours the water, and the ripples slowly spread apart, fading into a reflection that appears similar, yet isn't the same. An image of myself as someone else. A picture of Dorian Gray.
The sensation is chilling, yet I cannot turn away.
My father has worked for the State of Florida in the licensing division of an office connected to the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco for almost as long as I can remember. It wasn't the greatest job in the world, and it never really seemed like something he wanted to do when he grew up -- but for nearly half his life it was his job. His ship to command. Or at least it was until about a month or so ago where management basically forced his hand, leading him to retire a little earlier than he had originally been planning on.

Anyone who's worked for the State knows that it's a thankless gig. At worst, my dad was a beauraucrat, a paper-pusher who shut down as many bars as he helped open. At his best, my father helped keep small businesses open, made sure they were on the right side of the law, and did his part to try and make sure that kids couldn't get into places they weren't legally allowed to get into.
Even though you'd probably never get him to admit it out loud -- he loved that job.
They left him alone. They trusted his results. He was able to come and go as he pleased. Most of his time was spent traveling around the area, doing his inspections and making his quotas. This was a good thing for my father, because by and large he hated the people he worked with. His goal most days was to be in the office as little as possible -- preferring the company of the bar and restaurant owners he kept tabs on around town -- something that I find interesting in comparison to my own life, especially in the way that it mirrors the way I preferred the company of my students to that of my fellow teachers or administrators during my years as a middle school teacher.

Unfortunately the same things that made my dad great at his job were the same things that made him a difficult employee. He kept his own hours, he spent as much time "hanging out" with clients as he did inspecting them (something the rest of us might call building relationships). He took long lunches, he didn't spend much time in the office, and despite the fact he never fell short of the expectations his superiors placed on him -- my dad wasn't much of a "team player" around the office.
Or to put it another way, whenever they held potlucks my dad was
more likely to skip it altogether than to bring in a covered dish.
Long story short, a new supervisor was brought in to help streamline operations in the area, and part of his new direction was to try and turn my father into a more of a 9 to 5 office worker. There were new requirements that asked for regular detailed reports, restrictions on mileage, and complaints about how "friendly" he was with the business owners instead of shaking them down the way a real AB&T officer should.

20 years ago my dad might have adjusted his style. But after 40 plus years plus of making his numbers and then some, the last thing he wanted to hear was how to do his job. So he pushed back for a while (my favorite story is the way he openly referred to his new boss as "Fuhrer" -- even to his face) but eventually reached a point where he felt it was either fight the man for the remaining years it would take to get his full pension, or opt for the State's early retirement option and separate himself from all the bullshit.
He took the deal.
Knowing how much life the job (especially at the end) was sucking the life out of him, I was happy for him. But knowing my father the way I do, I was also a little worried. Worried because despite the fact that my father is many wonderful things, at a certain point he had let his job become the main thing in his life. His friends were coworkers. His acquaintances were clients. Many of his preferred pastimes (taking care of the house and the yard, watching baseball and NASCAR) were in a lot of ways escapes from the job.
Make no mistake -- He needed to get out of that place.
But it was hard not to worry what might happen once the place started to get out of him.
At first he loved the freedom of having his days open. He worked around the house. He cleaned up the front yard, re-organized the bookshelves, and painted the living room. He spent time with his dogs and caught up on his reading. He still visits the office on a regular basis to take his dearest friend to lunch so he can catch up with her on her life and how things are going – but as time continues to to move on it’s becoming clear that he’s starting to grow weary of the solitude.

Or course my evil grandmother is always around to hassle him for rides to the store or to help with her endless array of pointless tasks – but even that is more of a curse than a blessing.

The simple fact is, the more times I visit, the more depressed he seems. Not because his job is gone (because I think he’s actually glad to be rid of it) but because he’s just really lonely, and I don’t think he knows how to fix it.
I want more than anything to help him – but it’s not like I can claim to be any expert, you know?
I have friends here in town. People I care about and enjoy the company of. But most of them are married with kids, involved in relationships, or busy with work. What I don’t have (and what my father seems to be missing as well) are people to hang out with. Boys, running buddies, a crew. The kinds of people who come to your house, drink your beer, and won’t leave.

Strange as it may sound, everyone needs people like that in their lives. People who will call up and say, "Hey what are you doing? Watching TV!? Fuck that – lets go bowling." People who you can drop in on anytime and find something to do with. People who call you for no reason at all, people who ride with you when you go out, and call you all pissed off when you decide to stay in.
Friends like that are more precious than gold, and right now neither of us have that many.
For me it’s led to going out to bars, hanging out in regular places, trying to ingratiate myself (with varied results) to the people I see there again and again. But my father isn’t me. He doesn’t really like crowds, he certainly doesn’t enjoy night life, and despite the fact that he wants people in his life – has reached an age where it’s hard to ignore just how annoying most people are on a regular basis.

Plus, there’s something about the process of trying to make new friends that unfortunately casts the spotlight back on you for being the one who doesn’t have any. It’s almost worse than dating, because your friends are everything. They carry you through rough times, they forgive your faults (even as they’re making fun of them), and in their own way they push you to embrace who you are.
I was never a better guitarist than when Spruill told people, "You have to hear my boy shred!!"
I was never a better surfer than when Gristina cheered my moves in the lineup.
I’ll never be a better writer than when I get responses from you.
Sometimes it's easy to forget just how much time goes into sculpting friendships like that.
Think for a minute about your best friends. The ones you can call out of the blue and pick right back up no matter how far apart you are or how many miles are between you. Sure there was probably an instant chemistry between you – sure you probably had a lot of interests in common.

But consider this for a moment – think about how many experiences you and your best friends have shared. How many bad times you couldn't have gotten through without their help. How many times you fell out of love with them, got tired of putting up with their shit, thought they stabbed you in the back, felt jealous of the things they had, or lost track of them after graduation, especially as the job and the wife and the kids started taking up all your time -- all the while knowing that if you ever needed them, they'd be there in a heartbeat.
That kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight.
The problem is in a lot of ways my father and I both need to find a way for it to happen just that fast.

I want to help him – I mean in a lot of ways my dad is my oldest friend. We’re both lonely. We’re both in need of people to hang out with. But we have different tastes. We experience things differently. So it’s not like I can try to drag my dad out to Endo with me on a regular basis and hope that something clicks for him – especially considering that even if I could get him out there the first thing he’d probably do is start grilling them about the placement and visibility of their operating license.
At the same time, he’s so set in his ways that it’s gonna be tough for him to open up to new people.

..am I like that too?
For example -- my dad hates crowds. Standing in line, dealing with a-holes – he’s got no time for that. Which presents a bit of a problem when I try to suggest we go to baseball games, try to schedule a trip down to Daytona to see a race, or even go to a sports bar to watch a game.

Truth of the matter is that my dad loves watching Baseball, Football, and NASCAR on TV – by himself. And that’s cool, it’s his right. But it leaves me little room to navigate when I try to think of ways to break him out of this funk. I mean, It’s not like they have clubs where people get together to watch Deadliest Catch (although they should, that show rocks!).

Of course in the end no matter how much I want to help him, the simple fact is that it's only going to be real when he figures it out on his own. I can’t make friends for him, and I know from personal experience that nothing makes you feel worse than knowing your friends are doing whatever they can to try to force you into a better social situation, setting you up on mercy dates to help you get over a breakup, or losing at videogames on purpose to try to make you feel better.

When things like that happen, it’s hard not to pick up on the sense of pity that surrounds it. A feeling that only serves to make you feel worse about yourself, because you can’t help but be aware of the fact that for whatever reason you can’t seem to make it happen yourself. And I don’t want to drop that trip on a guy who’s already in a rough spot.
But I owe him so much.
..Who am I kidding, I owe him everything.
I just can’t figure out the best way to pay him back.

[Listening to:    The Blank Theory"Sour Times" ]


Monday, July 30

Know Your Chicken

Congratulations on the successful acquisition and completion of your recent threesome. Like many other individuals out there, you have made a choice that will enrich your life in a variety of ways. However, in order to maximize the quality of this selection we strongly suggest taking the following proactive steps to ensure the health and continued enjoyment of the memory of your experience.

These aftercare instructions are intended to prolong the life of your good feeling, making it easier to transition back into your normal day to day life without risking any negative side effects that may result from pretending it didn't happen.
1. Immediately find someone to tell.
Disclosure is a vital step towards extending the life of your good feeling about this. Consider the following adage: If a threesome falls in a forest and there's no one around to hear, did it really actually happen? -- or are you just drunkenly boasting about things you've never really done in a misguided attempt to make yourself look cooler to others?

If and when you've had a couple of cocktails and decide to break out this nugget of joy in casual conversation -- it's important to have the ability to get independent confirmation from a known and trusted source (especially considering the possibility that the other participants in the event may not be at liberty or feel comfortable admitting to said threesome).
2. Don't get too specific with details.
Many people make the mistake of offering technical drawings, PowerPoint presentations, or dramatic vocal re-enactments of the event while completing step #1. And while your individual experience was surely unique and exciting, remember that while some people get a vicarious thrill from sharing in certain stories, they're usually more comfortable hearing them told in the following ways:
Well one thing led to another, and well, ..you know
I didn't think he was the kind of guy to go for that, but ..he did
Well, lets just say everyone went away feeling good.
In other words, while the desire to brag is understandable, it's far more effective to leave the interpretation of the actual events to the person on the other end of the phone.
3. Add negative spin (for balance)
Once you've recounted enough details of your experience to gain validation from the other person, it's important to avoid the appearance of being a braggart. This can be accomplished easily by immediately downplaying how good the sex actually was.

This step serves a double purpose, as it implies to your listener that your personal sexual experience level is such that something like a threesome is actually kinda blasé by comparison. But it also helps bring the story back to reality a bit -- offering the sort of negative balance that helps assure people not only that the story is true, but also that they totally missed out on an event that while enjoyable at the time -- isn't likely to happen again.
Try employing phrases like:
I don't know why everyone thinks it's such a big deal, it's not that great
It was certainly exciting, but I doubt I'll ever do it again
To be honest, it wasn't all that I was thinking it would be
Well, they certainly had a good time, and that's really what it was all about
4. Choose your audience wisely.
Perhaps the most important step in the aftercare process -- it's vital that you take the time to carefully select the right person to tell about your experience. The intended recipient should be someone you trust, but at the same time someone who will be properly impressed and congratulatory once they learn the news. And while many of you may have family members or close friends who might fit this description -- it's important to remember that once this news has been reported, it has the potential to be reported again. Wives will tell husbands, good friends will tell their best friends, and family members cannot always be trusted not to drink and tell at Thanksgiving get-togethers.

As such, the most important consideration when choosing the audience for your threesome announcement is to make sure that you tell someone who has not actually experienced a threesome themselves.

While people fitting this description may be tough to find, the rewards speak for themselves. For example, if you tell your story to someone who has also had a threesome -- it's only natural for them to want to tell their story in return. This exchange can de-emphasize the special-ness of your own experience, especially if the other person makes it seem (refer to steps 2 and 3) like they've had so many of these particular types of trysts that they've actually grown weary of them and as such have pigeonholed them as part of their "wilder days back in college" (a statement that not only scoffs at any excitement you may feel about your recent threesome, but casts aspersions at the overall wildness of your college experience as well).

This is why it's vital to choose an audience who can only imagine what the experience was like. An audience who still considers the concept of a threesome unique, mystical, and essentially unattainable without the use of secret codes, handshakes, and a boatload of dumb luck. An audience who doesn't think in terms of what effect so many elbows and knees in such a confined space could have, but will rather use reference points taken from their own imaginings mixed with visual cues they've taken from the world of pornography -- which means regardless of how things actually went, they'll have no choice but to imaging you as some sort of bedroom superhero.

Of course, since apparently everyone out there has had a threesome it might seem difficult to come across individuals who fit this particular description, but rest assured they are out there -- bitter and blogging about it as we speak.

Look, I'm happy for all of you. It sounds like great fun -- but geez, can we maybe space these announcements out a couple of weeks at a time or something? I swear it feels like everyone had a meeting and decided to call me all at once, or there was like a sale on threesomes at Macy's this weekend that I didn't hear about.

You know what I did this weekend? I dropped my car off for an oil change and went bowling.
At the same time.
[Listening to:    Rage Against the Machine"Testify" ]


Friday, July 27

The Thing That Should Not Be

Every now and then you come across something so distasteful and disturbing, that you find it difficult to even think about it without feeling ill. For some it's the atrocities that happen to the animals involved in dog fighting. Others can't stomach what they see as the steady decline of morals and ethics among people in this country.
But if you ask me, the worst thing in the world right now is Kidz Bop.
For those of you who might not know, Kidz Bop is a wildly successful series of albums featuring groups of choruses of happy-voiced children singing re-made versions of current Top 40 rap, rock, and pop songs. They are marketed relentlessly through unbelievably cloying television advertisements played ad nauseam mostly on kid friendly channels like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.
Seriously, it makes me want to puke.
Of course any parent can tell you that one of the singular hells of having young children in this day and age is having to suffer through hours and hours of repeated listening to songs by Raffi, The Backyardigans, or The Wiggles. You start out like everyone else, thinking it's kind of cute that there are quasi-educational songs made especially for your kids. Add to that the fact that your kids become instantly addicted to it and seem to light up no matter how many bazillion times in a row they listen to it and it seems like a pretty good deal.

But then two months later you're stuck in a daze where you only have a faint recollection of what popular music sounds like because the only real musical input your system has is "Hot Potato, Hot Potato" all day, every day to the point where you catch yourself humming the melody in the elevator –-
Which would be fine if no one knew what you were doing, but only ever seems to
happen when you're alone in the lift with the hottest co-worker in the building.
So it's not a real hard stretch to imagine some marketing executive out there coming up with the brainstorm to take songs adults like and give them a kid-friendly spin. It's certainly not a new idea, but in our pop-star worshipping/NOW That's What I Call Music! culture -- it's the kind of thing that's quickly crossed the line from being some sort of novelty act into a multi-million dollar industry that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

The problem with the whole thing is that while the intended audience for these Kidz Bop albums is children, the standard for selecting the songs to be used is how popular they are with adults. This means that the entire pantheon of top 40 music is fair game, regardless of the subject matter.

As a result, the tracks featured on the albums are frequently edited to exclude any lyrics that are considered inappropriate for younger audiences. This means any songs that contain profane language or references to mature content are actually re-written by the producers to make them more acceptable for parents and young listeners.

I guess I can kinda see the good intentions behind this, but when you see the commercials (and if you spend any amount of time watching cartoons like I do you quickly realize that there's absolutely no escaping them) that even if they've gone to all the trouble to take out all the quote unquote "bad words" to protect little Sally's precious virgin ears -- the albums are still loaded with songs that focus on issues related to sex, drugs, and death.

Take for example the case of Kidz Bop 3, which features the little sprites singing along to the choruses of Nelly's 2002 hit "Dilemma" -- which goes:
I met this chick and she just moved right up the block from me
And (uh) she got the hots for me, the finest thing my hood has seen
But oh, no, no, she's got a man and a son doh'ohh
But that's o.k. cause I, wait for my cue and just listen, play my position like
a short stop, pick up everything mommy hittin
And in no time, i'm gonna make this friend mine
And that's for sure
Cause I, I've never been the type to break-up a happy home
But(uh) somethin' bout baby gurl, I just can't leave alone
Which trust me -- sounds totally convincing when sung by a horde of 10 year-old white kids.
And while I suppose it was thoughtful of the producers to remove several references to the n-word in later verses of the song -- the fact remains that there's still a bunch of children crooning to a woman about how much they want her to dump her man and let them come in and be a step-parent.

I've never been one to buy into the idea that lyrics influence behavior. It's one of the most ludicrous assertions of our time that the words in songs are somehow direct commands intended to corrupt the minds of young children. It's an idea that's been around for ages, but has gained momentum as the music industry has become more prevalent in our daily culture -- i.e. songs about sex lead kids to have sex, aggressive songs lead to aggressive kids, and lyrics that glorify sexism and violence create people who are sexist and violent.

Personally I maintain that there is still such a thing as free will, and that while I might enjoy the way the music makes me feel, I don't really feel confident in blindly following any instructions hidden in any lyrics written by 50 Cent.
Boss: "You were supposed to be at work four hours ago, where are you?"
Me: "I'm in the club with a bottle full of bub."
Boss: "What? Why the hell are you there?"
Me: "I don't ..know --- but come give me a hug!"
Basically whenever someone starts to spout off about all the evils in lyrics and how they corrupt peoples minds I refer them back to something Frank Zappa once said:
If lyrics make people do things, how come we don't love each other?
It's important that you understand this point, otherwise you might get the idea that my main problem with the Kidz Bop series is the way they change the lyrics simply to remove profanity -- which isn't my issue at all. I mean let's face it, simply removing bad words from a gansta rap song based off worries about what the effect the words might have on the child sort of implies that parents think it's ok if little Johnny Jr. joins a gang and engages in premarital sex, just as long as he doesn't cuss while he's doing it.

My real issue with all of this is the utter hypocrisy of the people who are terrified of the effect that an f-word might have on their kids, but somehow seem blind to the fact that songs without any profanity in them at all can still discuss topics overprotective parents would never want their kids hearing in the first place.

It's a lot like the way movies filled with profanity are the first to garner R-ratings from the MPAA, but films overloaded with scenes portraying violence and death continually find themselves with PG and PG-13 ratings.

It's like people freak out more over profanity because they know what it is, but then shrug their shoulders when more subjective concepts are put into play.

I may not agree with efforts to restrict the media input kids get instead of letting them experience what's out there in concert with open discussions with their parents about what it is and how it makes people feel, but I'm never gonna tell someone else how to raise their children.
That being said -- If you're gonna shelter your children, then fucking shelter them.
Think about it for a second -- who is this Kidz Bop thing really for? Kids who want to listen to music without the hassle of all those awful references to scary bad things, or parents who don't want to stop listening to their favorite songs but are kinda tired of having to turn it down at selected moments, or answer complaints from teachers or daycare workers who are concerned about your son's insistence on singing selected lines from "The Real Slim Shady" during naptime?

But beyond that, by buying into this whole "cleaner, gentler" version of popular music idea -- aren't you kind of saying that the music you listen to as adults is somehow harmful and dangerous?

Maybe the truth of the matter is that you're the ones who can't handle the dark, hot, throbbing messages hidden inside your own favorite songs? Maybe secretly you're glad that someone finally made a version of "Crazy in Love" that completely removed all the rap breaks.
It makes you think there are people out there having conversations like:
I mean, Beyonce's wonderful -- she's been on Oprah, but I read in People
last week that Jay-Z is black, and I'm not so sure how I feel about that.
If you're worried about the way songs can affect kids who haven't got enough perspective to dismiss suggestive music as just escapism, then don't let them hear it. Believe me, I sympathize -- The Wiggles suck, but if you're that worried about the issue you're just gonna have to bite the bullet and let your kids enjoy the emotional reward that listening to music provides without the risk of asking them to grow up too fast .

But if the real issue here is that you selfish bastards don't really want to let go of your own musical tastes just to appease the impressionable sensibilities of your own fucking children, then what you really need to do is go in the kitchen, open the freezer door, stick your head in there, and then slam the door as hard as you can again and again and again until you realize just how stupid you're being.

I mean seriously, an album of Ramones lullabies that's not intended as some kind of gag gift or joke? Are you so attached to your hot topic lifestyle that you can't put it down for five damn minutes to help your own baby go to sleep? Because if you are, you better be going the whole nine yards with it. You better be slam dancing with that toddler during playtime and showing them how to curbslide their teddy bears -- because otherwise you and your kids are fucking posers.
That's right BABY, you're an effin wanker!
It's like people these days are terrified to appear uncool to their own children. That somehow it's really important to get social validation from a 6 year-old. I really do believe that if Neal Pollack's son walked up to him and called him a sellout that the dude would go jump off a bridge. And it really doesn't make any sense to me at all. Yes, being a parent means you've got to set aside huge hunks of yourself for the sake of someone else, and having kids means that you will spend a large number of years being focused on things that your non-breeder friends might think are silly,

But do you know what's really cool?
Being a dad.
I know it sounds cheesy, but there’s something awesome about singing kids songs with your kids. I’m not proud of it, but there was a time when I could play a handful of Wiggles tunes on guitar (mainly because my kid thought it was great, but also because there was no way I was gonna live in a house where my son believed goddamn Murray was a better player than me). There was a time when I read bedtime stories and did funny voices for each character. And yeah, I suppose technically those things could look uncool if seen by someone else, but it’s not like I go up to hot women in nightclubs and say
"Hey baby, wanna get out on the dance floor and Move Your Arms Like Henry?"
Besides (and this is the real key that all of these Kidz Bop clones seem to forget), once they become teenagers your kids will discover their own tastes in music, and I guarantee you that it will have nothing to do with the things you like to hear. Because if there's any golden rule in this world, it's that once your kids become teenagers -- you're not ALLOWED to be cool to them.

Part of growing up is finding your own tastes and boundaries. And like it or not, a huge part of that in this country is that period where kids basically point blank reject the culture their parents have given them and seek refuge in some form of teen culture with their friends. I did it, you did it, Elvis did it, Frank Sinatra did it -- it's what kids do.

My dad loved country music, and my mom was a Beatles fanatic -- and for a while I loved listening to those things with them because it was like they were sharing something grown-up with me. But that doesn't mean once I hit age 13 I didn't turn right back around and call the both of them out for being old fogeys.
Geez Dad, are you still listening to Kenny Rogers? Come on -- everyone knows that The Tubes are the best band that ever decided to write, perform, and record music. They'll be around forever, so you'd better get on board now!
Unfortunately it seems like this whole Kidz Bop culture thing all goes back to this sense of hypocrisy that seems to permeate the consciousness of this country when it comes to the perception we have about protecting little girls.

Because we love to see them dance cheerleader style in too much makeup like the little pop-star princesses that they are (especially when they flip their hair and hips and look oh so grown up -- did you see that, my girls got it going on!) -- As long as that image of adopted adult cuteness doesn't cross the line into the pseudo-sexual dirty mouthed foulness that does not become a little lady.
       So let me get this straight -- what you want is for little
       girls to be sexy just as long as they're not sexual?
For example, last Sunday morning I was at a Waffle House enjoying some breakfast when someone put a dollar in the jukebox and kicked in some dance-o-pop song I’d never heard before. Normally in a place like that you just tune it out and focus on eating your meal – but almost as soon as the song kicked in a little girl appeared on the floor in front of the cash register and started doing an impromptu dance routine along with the song.

And it was sort of this mixed experience, because there was something cute in the way she seemed to be enjoying herself --- but at the same time equally horrifying in the way all of her moves had this sort of choreographed-cheerleader feel to them. She’d wave her arms and shake her hips in sequenced four-count groupings in a way that made it pretty clear she had practiced many times before in front of a mirror somewhere. Plus, she had this horrible fake teeth-filled smile on her face that clearly wasn’t the way she really smiled but was rather forced there by some overbearing harpy of a stage mom (who actually turned out to be sitting a few feet away from the young Gypsy Rose Lee, watching her every move).
It was an experience that went from being kinda cute to
really creepy a lot faster than it probably should have.
It’s kinda like those times when you’re at a supermarket or something and you see some woman walking around with a daughter whose outfit and accessories looks almost identical to theirs -- not only in the low cut of the blouse, but in the amount of eye makeup, the length of the dangly earrings, all the way down to the thong line that's uncomfortably visible over the waistline of their pants.
In situations like that most people freak out and say things like:
"What kind of parent lets their daughter dress like that? She looks like a tramp!"
Obviously there's some logic to that sort of thinking because there's a point where wearing clothing like that might force issues of body consciousness onto girls whose young bodies have not developed enough to even begin to start thinking about those sorts of things -- but what amazes me is that no one ever seems to look past the parents involved to wonder about the clothes themselves. Because no matter how many skanky moms wanted to buy buttfloss-styled underwear for their daughters, they'd never be able to do it if there weren't any stores that actually sold them.

There’s no question that responsibility for the way children appear and behave rests with the parents. Just because you can go to Limited Too and get a Daisy Dukes for your 8-year old that have the word "come and get it" embroidered across the ass doesn't mean that you actually have to buy them.
But make no mistake -- Limited Too (and their corporate parent company overlords)
would never sell something like that if they didn't think anyone would pay for it.
It's thought processes like this that make the whole Kidz Bop thing worse. Because when people buy into the idea that the American idol/MTV cribs lifestyle (MINUS all the bad words, black people, and drugs) is the ultimate goal -- then you perpetuate the idea that no matter how much you want to make your little girl into a princess while she is young, you fully expect her to let you down and disappoint you once she grows up.

I don't mean to imply the same thing doesn't happen to sons -- but the simple fact is that in this country, our moral conscience is still largely based off the image of blue-eyed blonde haired little girls.
  • Think about when that rich girl went missing (and was eventually found dead) in the Bahamas.
  • Think about what happened when Miss America screwed up (but was later forgiven) last year
  • Now think about what happened to Vanessa Williams, the first African-American
    Miss America when she was forced to give up her crown in shame back in 1984.
Music is a wonderful thing. It’s one of the main inspirations and treasures in my life. But it’s not more important than my sense of self, or my ability to make good judgments. Being a rock star is a dream I’ve had probably since I was 3 years old – but it doesn’t mean that I was ready at that age to handle the responsibilities and challenges that came along with being a performing musician/celebrity.

But I think the most important thing was that my parent’s weren’t disappointed in me for feeling that way. They knew I wanted to be a famous guitarist, but they weren’t disappointed when I didn’t act like it when I was in pre-school. Of course that was probably because they weren’t afraid to talk to me and find out what I wanted instead of driving in the car and pretending that the tagline to the Ludicrous rap break in the Fergie song Glamorous is:
If you ain’t got no money take your broke self home.


Wednesday, July 25

You Know How We Do

When you work in radio, you quickly learn that the worst possible thing you can ever have is dead air. That is, any moment of your broadcast where absolutely nothing is happening. It's a moment where you risk losing more listeners than almost all other causes combined, because once people realize there isn't something wrong with their stereo they almost instantly switch over to something else.
Not that silence can't be beautiful, but that in radio every second costs money.
So when you work as a producer, it's vitally important to have something around to throw on really quickly just in case there's ever a danger of it happening. Especially with event-based things, like talk radio shows or sports broadcasts. Anytime you have an instance where you're going from music to a satellite link to a commercial or whatever there are all sorts of things that can go wrong -- feeds that aren't there, carts that won't play, whatever.

Radio and TV production guys have names for these -- like for instance, when you play music (like a theme song) at the beginning of a show that leads into the host's opening speech, or music that you play at the beginning of the broadcast to mask the sound of the satellite uplink going live, it's called a ramp. When you're working with satellite feeds or pre-recorded content, they'll build in breaks that feature canned music to make room for commercial breaks -- which most of the time are called floaters.
All little tricks designed to keep dead air from happening.
You don't notice them so much on larger radio stations because so many radio stations nowadays run off computer sequencers, but if you spend any time listening to AM formats you hear it almost all the time -- mainly because so much of what they do is fed in from somewhere else, but also because most of your local talk and sports channels usually hire college kids or get interns to handle the switching duties. I actually was one of those kids for a while when I worked at the radio station in Tallahassee, where I spent waaay too many weekends producing local broadcasts of Georgia Bulldog football games and minor league hockey games.
Which is also where I learned how forbidden dead air is.
Not because I had someone diligent and experienced training me on all the little nuances of the industry, but because any time there was dead air on my shift, even if it was just for a second -- the phone would start ringing.

When I was just starting out and was totally green, I'd make the mistake of answering the phone first, at which point my boss (and station owner) Ed Winton would tear into me for letting silence go out. And when I'd apologize to him and tell him that I was gonna fix it, he'd get even angrier.
You're not fixing it, you're talking to me -- put something on NOW!!!
Despite his constant hovering, there were still a handful of times where I let dead air go out. Once or twice it was a result of something technical outside my control, but most of the time it was becasue I wasn't at the top of my game. I'd fall asleep near the end of the night during a dead-boring shift, or be on the phone with someone and miss the cue.

But worst of all were the times when the song playing wasn't long enough to let you finish your business in the bathroom.
Because you'd always end up sitting there with your pants
around your ankles when the song would run out -- leaving
no other sound for you to hear but the ringing of the phone.
The funny thing is that now, many years removed from my short-lived career in radio how I still notice things like that. How at certain times during the day you'll hear the same kinds of music being used for floaters or ramps between the sports talk shows I sometimes listen to.

Most stations don't care what music you keep on hand for emergencies, as long as it's not obscene or doesn't stray too far from the format of the station itself -- so a lot of producers take it as their one opportunity to put the songs they love the most on the air. So on one station you might hear hard rock, then on another between the breaks you'll hear rap. Sometimes you'll even hear what sounds like garage band recordings -- which is a good hint that the producer is a musician, and that the music you are hearing is his band.
At the same time, it is just filler music -- so a lot of times it's easy to ignore.
Which is probably why it caught me off guard a little bit this morning when I clicked on the internet radio to catch one of the sports shows I like to listen to only to hear the opening chords to Harvey Danger's   "Flagpole Sitta" kicking in. It's a fun song, one of those tunes that it's just hard not to want to dance to or sing along with, especially with lyrics like:
Put me in the hospital for nerves
and then they had to commit me
You told them all I was crazy
they cut off my legs now I'm an amputee, goddamn you!
But it's odd how certain things resonate. How one man's silence is another person's symphony, how one person's filler music is another's chance to get his own band on the air.

Was "Flagpole Sitta" her favorite song? Eh, probably not. She had such fantastic and varied taste in music it would be hard to think that she could ever be compartmentalized into having just one favorite (and even if you could, the better bet would probably be The Cure's "Like Cockatoos") -- but regardless, Hana loved this tune.
How long has it been since I've talked to you?
Things happen. Friendships ebb and flow. Sometimes the water pushes too hard against the shore and gets caught in a tide pool. Sometimes the tide pulls too hard against the ground and the sands get washed out to sea. Sometimes even when you truly, truly care about people they slip away from you.

But what never changes are the memories, and the precious value they carry. What doesn't change is that even if I never have the chance to talk to her again, the fact remains that during a time in my life when I truly needed a friend, she was there for me. The simple fact is that she is one of my very best friends, even if I haven't heard from her in ages.

I didn't always take her advice. I didn't always keep myself straight of confusing what it was or wasn't. We didn't always see eye to eye, and as time moved on -- it seemed like our lives were starting to move in different circles than they had when we were floating paper boats across unseen oceans. And in the end, despite a song that I still listen to in the car that I'm still really proud of being a part of, we weren't always really able to make music together.
But I loved her just the same. And in a lot of ways I still do.
But dead air can be fatal. And after a time where I wasn't able to contact her, and even worse sometimes didn't really know what to say, she switched stations and moved on. I suppose in some ways I did too.
..But I miss her sometimes.
It's funny how people affect us --especially when time, life, and miles get in the way and they become more of a fond memory than an active participant. Strange because when you speak of them it's almost as if you're referring to a photograph, a frozen instant in time; saying things like "this is what she would say," or "she always cracked up over stuff like that" when in reality people evolve and change. I think what I valued the most about our friendship is that during a time when it seemed on separate levels both of our lives were going through different kinds of upheavals we were both able to provide enough patches of flotsam and solid ground to at least escape the rain for a while.
That being said, I still can't believe I learned
all those AFI songs on guitar for you, beyotch.

[Listening to:    Telefon Tel Aviv"My Week Beats Your Year" ]


Tuesday, July 24

I Can Teach You, But I'll Have to Charge

The other night I was just hanging out at home, wasting time on the web when I realized I was kinda thirsty. So I got up from the couch and headed into the kitchen to go get something. Of course it only took a second after opening the fridge door to realize that I really didn't have that much to choose from at all.
Well, nothing non-alcoholic at least.
It had been one of those lazy weekends where the times it wasn't pouring down rain it was unbelievably hot and muggy out as all the water on the ground evaporated. I had spent a good part of the morning surfing at the beach, but once the weather started to get hairy and I started to see lightning strikes it just became easier to just go back home and stay inside. I spent most of the day catching up on Entourage DVD's and playing guitar. But it was so hot out that I guess I didn't notice how many times I went back to the fridge to refill my cup.

Suddenly here I am at eleven o'clock on a Sunday night with a cupboard that's essentially bare. Of course there's a bunch of beer in fridge and jäger, vodka, tequila, and rum in the freezer -- but I really didn't have of anything to mix the booze with and strange as it might sounds, sometimes you just don't want a beer.

What I really wanted was like some orange juice. Just something sweet to cool me off before I headed off to bed. I thought for a moment about heading out to a store to get something, but it was late on a Sunday night, I wasn't feeling particularly motivated to get put together even enough to go out of the house. Plus my paycheck hadn't really posted to my account yet -- so short of heading out and writing a Lebowski check I didn't really have a lot of options.
Problem is, I'm still thirsty.
I suppose a normal person might have just have made a glass of ice water or something, but it was one of those specific cravings where I didn't know exactly what wanted, but I was absolutely clear on what I didn't. I don't know -- do you ever get like that? One of those times where you're driving around hungry in an area crammed with restaurants, but no matter how many signs or menus you look at, you can't find anything to eat?

Frustrated, I started to look around the cabinets. I'm not really sure what I was hoping to find -- but the truth was that I was feeling too lazy to go out and get something yet was still determined (and thirsty) enough to be open to all sorts of alternate improvised options.
Which is when I opened up the freezer and caught sight of a
long-forgotten carton of Oreo cookie ice cream near the back.
I'm not much of an ice cream guy. I like it well enough, and sometimes there's nothing better than having a fresh cone on a hot day, but in general when you live alone and make dinners for one you don't often take the time to prepare dessert. In fact while I was looking at it I kinda had a hard time remembering why I actually bought it (or when for that matter -- can ice cream go bad if you keep it in the freezer too long?)
When suddenly it hit me:
Ice Cream. Cold. Milk.
..Oh hell yeah.
Within minutes I was back on the couch, smiling to myself and watching late night TV while sipping on a homemade Oreo cookie ice cream cocktail. It had only taken a few seconds to spoon out a bunch into my blender and then grind it down to a liquid, and it made a hell of a mess -- but it was soooo worth it.
And yes, I did drink it out of a measuring cup.
[Listening to:    Ram Jam"Black Betty" ]


Monday, July 23

Attention. Interest. Decision. Action.

It's Monday morning and the buzz around the office is palpable. Slowly, almost grudgingly the men in their long, dark jackets shuffle in -- taking extra time to remove their weather-stained hats, examine them in the fluorescent lighting of the room, and then carefully place them as if they were precious children on the hooks of the hat rack sitting in the corner of the room.

Underneath the coats are business jackets worn over pressed white shirts. Monochrome neckties drawing unmovable lines from their chins to their gradually expanding waistlines. Some are older, but even with their differences you can tell them for the fraternity that they are. Different men caught in similar circumstances, dutifully rowing the ship towards a similar destination even if their reasons for wanting to get there are as different as whiskey and gin.

There are hushes of conversation and gestures towards the closed manager's office as the outside door opens. Escaping the rain, the huddled figure of the NHL steps in, coughing while he shakes the water from his umbrella.
Always late, lately.
He moves quickly -- sensing the eyes of the others watching him. There aren't words, but something is hiding in the eyes of the NBA, NFL, and MLB that seems darker and more worried than normal this morning.

Sure things have been rough lately, what with all the scandals and shakeups -- but it's the long days of Summer. Besides, everyone knows it'll pick back up soon -- especially if we can land a few better fans than the slop we've been dealing with lately.
One thing's for sure -- nothing's gonna get done today without a little something to get the juices flowing.
Wordlessly, almost instinctively NHL moves across the floor of the office towards the sidebar counter -- shaking a single Styrofoam cup away from the others and balancing it carefully while pouring the steaming liquid from the pot held high in the other.

Raise it to the lips, test it against the skin to make sure it doesn't burn. A careful movement, even if it's one that's done over and over every morning like a habit. So habitual in fact, that NHL doesn't notice the sound of the manager's door opening, or the two men in their sharply pressed and perfectly tailored suits as they enter the main office.

If he had, he probably wouldn't have been nearly as caught off guard as he was when the voice on the other side of the room all but exploded to life and began shouting obscenities in his direction:
Let me have your attention for a moment! So you're talking about what? You're talking about...(stubbing out his cigarette) -- bitching about the players who keep getting thrown in jail, that son of a bitch shooting steroids into his ass, some referee who's so deep to the mob that he's started fixing games to get above water, or the guy who's killing dogs and so forth? Let's talk about something important. (to Williamson) Are they all here?

     All but one.

Well, I'm going anyway. Let's talk about something important! (to NHL) Put that coffee down!! Coffee's for closers only. Do you think I'm fucking with you? I am not fucking with you. I'm here from downtown. I'm here from Mitch and Murray. And I'm here on a mission of mercy. Your name's Hockey?

     Yeah.

You call yourself a professional sports league, you son of a bitch?

     I don't have to listen to this.

You certainly don't pal. 'Cause the good news is -- you're fired. The bad news is you've got, all you got, -- is just one week to regain your fans, starting tonight. Starting with tonight's Sportscenter. Oh, have I got your attention now? Good. 'Cause we're adding a little something to this months contest. As you all know, first prize is a new billion dollar collective bargaining agreement. Anyone want to see second prize? Second prize's a new major network media revenue sharing deal complete with endorsement tie-ins and the love of adoring fans not only in this country, but all over the world. Third prize is you're fired.

You get the picture? You're laughing now?

You got fans. Mitch and Murray paid good money. Get their names to sell them! You can't close the fans you're given, you can't close shit, you ARE shit, hit the bricks pal and beat it 'cause you are going out!!!


     The fans are weak.

'The fans are weak.' Fucking fans are weak? You're weak. I've been in this business fifteen years!!

     What's your name?

FUCK YOU, that's my name!! You know why, Mister? 'Cause you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight, I drove a eighty thousand dollar BMW. That's my name!! -- And your name is "you're wanting." You can't play in a man's game. You can't close them. (at a near whisper) And you go home and tell your wife your troubles.
Because only one thing counts in this life:
Get them to sign on the line which is dotted!

[Listening to:    Our Lady Peace"Superman's Dead" ]


Saturday, July 21

Waffle Cone

This morning I had a chance to catch up with J on the phone while I was driving out to the beach to go hang out. It was a much longer conversation than we'd been able to have lately -- filled with laughter, smiles, flirtation, and the kind of connection, the kind of time spent together (even if it was only on the phone) that we haven't been able to share in a long, long time.
Distance does that sometimes.
It was the kind of momentary re-connection that seemed to make everything around me better, helped push sunshine through clouds I didn't even know were there. I don't know, it's hard to explain. I mean, I'm sure you've had unexpected phone calls that have brightened your day -- but it was more than just hearing from her. It was about the way the conversation didn't have to be about anything in particular. Like at that one moment the two of us had lucked into the one specific wavelength for our cel phones to connect to that allowed us to feel (even for a short time) that all the miles didn't matter. That even if she was there and I am here, we're still us in a way that no one else can ever touch.

After I got off the phone with her I was thinking how much I wanted to write about it -- or at least try to capture it all in words enough for anyone else to know. It's just that it was such a unique thing, such a powerful feeling -- that as much as you'd think it might be easy to describe, it proved in a lot of ways difficult to make concrete with just simple language.

All these thoughts were circulating through my head as I walked across the courtyard towards 3rd street, when suddenly my world was pulled completely to the left as my senses were seduced almost instantly by the aromas of hot fudge, fresh fruit, and homemade waffle cones emanating from a tiny ice cream shop situated among the shops and restaurants along the sidewalk.

Have you ever had that happen to you, standing near freshly brewed coffee or newly cut grass where suddenly everything seemed to move into slow motion as the textures and aromas enveloped you in their own virtual deep kiss that was as luxurious and passionate as it was unexpected, which in turn made it seem even better than it ever could have been?
Because if you have..
Then you know exactly what that phone call was like.
[Listening to:    Fishbone"Lemon Meringue" ]


Friday, July 20

Ookie

A few months back a story began circulating around alleging that Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick may have been somehow involved with dog fighting activities going on at a property he owned in Smithfield, Virginia. For a while it was the subject of speculation and rumor, especially during the early part of the investigation where it seemed local authorities had their suspicions about these allegations, but couldn't come up with any real proof.
Then the Federal Government got involved.
Lets put aside for a moment the horrific details of the dog fighting activities that Vick is accused of being a part of -- because as deplorable as all that is, once the feds started digging up evidence about gambling conspiracies and organized crime RICO act violations this thing ramped up into a whole other level. What we're talking about now is the type of prosecution normally reserved for mobsters and white-collar criminals.

The consequences of all the charges could lead to fines nearing $300,000, seizure of any property obtained as a result of money made, and at least 5 years in prison. There may be a number of ways Vick could possibly minimize the amount of personal legal damage he takes from all this, and at least at the moment it doesn't seem like even if he did face jail time that it would really be substantial in any way (but considering the indications we have gotten about the lifestyle Vick seems to be a part of -- do you honestly think the prospect of going to the hole is anything that Vick might actually be concerned about?).

If anything, what Vick needs to be worried about more than anything else right now is the IRS. I was having a recent discussion with my brother-in-law where we both agreed that once this thing turns into a RICO trial (which so far looks like where it's headed) his entire estate could be in jeopardy. Make no mistake, the government wants to nail him on the animal fighting charges, but of there's one thing the feds do not tolerate in any shape or form; it's an illicit multi-state gaming operation.
And that's where things start to get really sticky.
Because there's no more forbidden word in professional sports than gambling.
It's as simple as this -- Once you open up the Pandora’s box that says Michael Vick may have wagered a few thousand dollars here and there on a particular dog to win or lose a match, then there's no way to close the door on the possibility that he could have made bets related to affecting the outcomes of football games he was directly involved in.

So far Vick has been implicated as the moneyman behind the operation (something that was easy for him to afford considering his $100 million plus contract) -- which means that this entire venture was in a sense funded with money Vick earned from the NFL (not to mention endorsements with EA Sports, Nike, and Coca-Cola). So if there's enough evidence to prove Vick's involvement in a conspiracy to commit a multi-state gambling operation, under the RICO act it's possible all of these companies could be linked in connection. If that wasn't enough the size and scope of the dog-fighting ring makes Vick and his co-defendants prime targets for federal and state tax law prosecution.

Make no mistake. Vick's gonna go down for something. High-priced lawyers may be able to muddy the waters enough to keep him clear of the dog fighting charges (which is bullshit, but would be par for the course when it comes to celebrity court cases)
But when it comes to tax evasion, Uncle Sam doesn't play.
Of course this doesn't even begin to address the public image slaughterhouse that Vick is about to face. Popular opinion is already splitting in the worst of ways, as this story extends beyond the sporting press and starts to draw opinions and ire from animal rights advocates, civil rights groups, the national media, pet owners, plus anyone else out there who feels disgusted by the descriptions of the treatment given animals involved in these events.
Which brings us back to the NFL.
At the end of last season newly-appointed commissioner Roger Goodell arrived on the scene with a mandate to address the huge image problem that is currently plauging the league -- namely that people are starting to think the NFL is a haven for thugs and criminals.

So Goodell puts on his bad cop outfit and lays down a hardcore conduct policy that specifically stating that any player involved in multiple incidents (criminal or otherwise) that do not exhibit conduct befitting a professional football player will face immediate fines and/or suspensions.

The reasons for this were obvious -- small numbers of players were creating continual black eyes for the rest of the league with their behavior. What's worse, the lack of diciplinary action taken by the NFL made it seem like no one really cared what kind of people players were as long as they scored points, made the highlight reels, and helped sell officially licensed jerseys.

Within weeks Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry and Chicago Bears defensive lineman Tank Williams were served with multi-game suspensions in reaction to their individual troubles with the law.

But then Goodell took it a step further and suspended Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pac Man" Jones for the entire year in the wake of a series of incidents involving disputes with police, fights in strip clubs, and alleged incidents of domestic violence. The key here being that while there was no doubt Jones was involved in these incidents -- he has not actually been convicted of anything. All of the charges that have not been dismissed are still pending -- and yet Goodell suspended him for the entire season without pay.

Now ask yourself this question -- why in a league where convicted criminals like Chris Henry and Tank Williams garnered only partial season suspensions for their activities would Adam Jones get shut down for the entire year?

The league will tell you that Jones is a repeat offender who has violated the leagues conduct policy upwards of 10 times over the course of his career. And while that certainly is true, it's possible that the timing and harshness of Jones’s suspension had an extended purpose:
To scare players like Michael Vick straight.
That's not to say Pac Man Jones isn't an a-hole. That's not to say the crimes Adam Jones are accused of are not serious, or don't require attention.
What I'm saying is that Pac Man was made an example of.
The basic kinds of incidents Pac Man Jones found himself involved with were the kind of activities that cast a shadow over all of the questionable activities pro football players were generally considered being a part of -- driving drunk, making spectacles of themselves at strip clubs, getting into skirmishes with bouncers or bar patrons, mistreatment of spouses or family members, generally being in the wrong place at the wrong time or going out in public and acting like you can get away with literally anything you want not because you are rich, but because you're an NFL player.

Pac Man was served up on a platter for everyone else to see.
Look what we did to him -- don't think we won't do it to you.
Of course there was always the argument that the players persecuted by the league for these things weren't stars, and that the whole "cleanup" movement was more for show than anything else. But if you really think about it, if you think about some of the minor incidents Michael Vick had been involved in over the past few years (getting caught with what was thought to be drug paraphernalia at an airport, the whole "Ron Mexico" scandal, strip club incidents less severe, but similar in many ways to what Pac Man Jones were nailed for) it was clear that while the league may not have known the extent of Michael Vicks illicit activities, they were clearly aware that one of their premier stars was doing things he should not have been doing -- especially considering his position not only in the Atlanta community, but as an ambassador for the league as well.

It's not like the NFL hasn't had to deal with its share of criminals in the past. From charges of domestic violence and drug possession and sales to more major incidents like the Ray Lewis attempted murder trial, OJ Simpson's double murder trial, and most notably Carolina Panthers Wide Receiver Rae Carruth's conviction for murdering his girlfriend and her unborn child -- there have been times when the NFL has been faced with one of their players committing completely sickening acts of violence against others.

The difference being that none of the players who were ever convicted for their crimes were considered major stars. Even though he was acquitted by a jury, OJ Simpson's trial took place long after he had retired from the game. Carruth was at one time a rising star, but once the severity of the charges against him became public the league was quick to divorce themselves from him.
Which is something they simply can't do with a marquee player like Vick.
I mean let's face it, you can't just pretend a guy who was once on the cover of John Madden's videogame doesn't exist.

Simply put, Vick is the face of the Atlanta Falcons. He's their most marketed personality, their most talented player, and the guy they've based all of their coaching, personnel, and game plan strategy decisions off of for the past few years.

If they do the right thing and suspend him their season is effectively over before it began. If they stick by his side they will be handcuffing themselves to the biggest PR nightmare and ticket sale disaster the team has ever known. Even worse, if they up and fire him they'll be stuck with a huge salary cap hit that could keep them from being able to manufacture any success without him and would still be obliged to pay the guaranteed money in his contract (which he will surely use to fund his upcoming legal battle).

In other words, every time someone says the words "Michael Vick," "Federal Indictment," "Dog Fighting," "Animal cruelty," "multi-state gambling," and "thug" they will also be saying the words "Atlanta Falcons," "Arthur Blank," and "National Football League."

And then the questions will come. "How could you not have known?" or "Why didn't you do something to stop this?" Questions that honestly can't be answered. Because if you did know to any extent then doing nothing makes it look like you somehow condoned his activities, and if you claim you didn't know then you open yourselves up to critics saying you simply didn't care either way as long as he scored touchdowns.

Both the Atlanta Falcons and the NFL have publicly announced that they will not take any action until more information is known, or until the matter reaches some sort of definite resolution -- which if you ask me is an absolute pussy approach.
Simply put -- He's got to go.
I don't give a shit if a year from now the guy somehow skates on the whole thing. I don't care if somehow this all comes out to be a huge misunderstanding. Take a goddamn stand for once, and hang this fucker out to dry the exact same way he did when he took the money you gave him and invested it in all of this. If you're Arthur Blank, don’t let him report to camp. If you're Roger Goodell, freeze his contract payments, and if you're the Nike corporation -- take his name off your stupid shoe.

Let’s not forget that a few months back during the NFL draft Michael Vick sat there in a pressed grey suit, looked right into the camera and said he was committed to changing his life. That the accusations of dog fighting surrounding him were completely unfounded and that he was going to do whatever he could to repay the trust put in him by the City of Atlanta, the Atlanta Falcons organization, the National Football League.

And we all bought it. We all wanted to buy it, because he's an amazing athlete. He's fun to watch. His numbers over the last few years haven't even been that good, but regardless the things he did on the field were the sorts of things football fans love to see.

But I'm telling you right now, I'd rather suffer 50 straight years of un-athletic fat ass immobile quarterbacks standing in the pocket and getting sacked than watch one more second of this bastard on my TV.
The truth is that I feel this way because I'm angry at myself for
being too blinded by his talent and my own desire to see great
football to realize what this guy really was underneath his helmet.
Of course, there was really no way to know any of this beforehand. Because every time we saw Vick prior to this revelation he seemed a personable, enthusiastic young guy. It’s not like you’d turn on ESPN to see some reporter asking Vick what he thought his teams chances were in their upcoming game against the 49er’s only to have him answer,

"They shall die for their insolence like the dogs they are."
I mean, if you read some of the things that he’s accused of doing to these animals whether they won or lost the fights he forced them to take part in, you have to imagine that he’s some sort of devil -- a cruel inhuman beast who couldn’t possibly have anything in common with you or me.

But then you see him up there on the screen and that’s not the case. He looks just like us. Maybe in better shape, maybe in a more expensive suit -- but human nonetheless. He’s 27 years old. He went to college. When the murders happened on the campus of Virginia Tech he was one of the first to donate money to their relief fund.
And perhaps that’s what hurts the most of all about this story.
Because in an instant this person we connected with the idea of entertainment, with the excitement and escapism that so many of us equate with sports, someone we sympathized with when he lost and cheered for when he won turned out to be a horrible, hate-filled monster.

And in that moment where you realize that the monsters of this world can hide in plain sight, it also becomes clear that they can exist almost anywhere. That they mistreat their loved ones, that they hijack planes and passengers to use as weapons in a political wars, that they unleash their personal rage on classmates and officials at their college campuses with lethal weapons.
And that by not seeing them for what they are when they look you in
the eye, in your own little way you have unwittingly given them power.
[Listening to:    Mindless Self Indulgence"Bullshit" ]


Thursday, July 19

Get Thee Down

Reserve me a room downstairs, vote me off the island, schedule me for an episode of Intervention, whatever you gotta do -- it's not gonna change the fact that this cracks me up so much I want to scribble its name on the back of my 3rd period spiral notebook and draw little hearts all around it.

[Listening to:    Nirvana"Mr. Moustache" ]


Wednesday, July 18

The Treble

All you're hearing about lately is news and blathering about the official arrival of world-renowned soccer star David Beckham to the Los Angeles area in preparation for the start of the Major League Soccer season.

For those of you who might not know -- David Beckham is probably one of the world's most famous athletes -- a man who has electrified soccer fans worldwide with his unique mix of charisma, leadership ability, and skill. He's young, attractive, media-friendly, and obscenely rich. He is considered one of the best soccer players in history, but beyond that is as much a part of European and Asian pop culture as Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan are in the United States.
Yet in many ways he's still a relative unknown in this country.
Sure people know his name, but you'd be hard pressed to find random samplings of North Americans who could pick him out of a crowd if he wasn't wearing a uniform.

So of course it seemed a major coup when the LA Galaxy paid Beckham a ridiculous amount of money (between contract and endorsements reports suggest he could earn close to $1 million dollars a week) to come be a part of their MLS team. But beyond that is the unwritten suggestion that the addition of one of the sport's most famous and beloved icons will somehow finally break down the wall that has kept soccer from becoming as accepted and beloved in this country as it is everywhere else on the planet.
But if you ask me, the result is going to be the exact opposite.
David Beckham will be the death of American Professional Soccer.
There's a continual misconception floating around suggesting that one of the main reasons soccer isn't more of a major sport in this country centers around the fact that Americans don't understand it. That because of our blind adoration for brutish knucklebrain games like football and basketball, we aren't actually capable of comprehending the complexities and beauty of the worlds most played sport -- which is utter crap.
The truth of the matter is that tons of Americans watch soccer every weekend.
It's just that we watch little kids play it. Stumbling, bunched-up groups of children running around in brightly-colored jerseys and Umbro shorts chasing a ball around in a field. Sure there are high schools who feature the game and college programs that routinely feed players to various European leagues -- but make no mistake:
In this country soccer is a kids sport.
Soccer is less likely to break little Stevie's leg than Pop Warner football, offers teams for both sons and daughters, doesn't cost an arm and a leg to buy equipment for -- and perhaps best of all, becomes something your kids get bored of after a few years.

It's perhaps not the most positive statement about American parenting -- but make no mistake, while we may love to see our kids playing a game, having fun, and competing with their peers -- after a couple of years of paying registration fees, buying overpriced cleats, going to practices a couple of nights a week and having to get up early Saturday after Saturday -- there's nothing Mom and Dad love more to hear than the day their kid decides he'd rather hang out with his friends and play videogames instead of going to practice this year.

But the most important facet of this isn't the way parents tire of the game, but the way American kids do. Talking heads can go on for years as to the reasons why the sport isn't the big deal in this country it is everywhere else -- but the simple fact is that if the fun of playing the game doesn't infect the kids in this country enough to want to play it on into their older years or keep up with the professional leagues and star players around the world, then why would the addition of another star soccer player make any difference either way?

Tiger Woods re-wrote the book on golf because the way he played the game was not only different from the way that other stars played before him, but his attitude about the game itself was far more pumped up and competitive than the way anyone else was going about it at the time.

Woods took golf the game and made it into a sport. But more importantly, Woods took something that was normally pure torture to watch on TV and made it into a legitimate entertainment option.

Ratings on golf broadcasts are completely different when Tiger is not featured or participating in a given tournament -- Which to me says people don’t really care about golf -- they just love to watch this guy do his thing. The same could be said for casual fans of tennis who don't follow the various pro tours closely, but watch the major events religiously as long as the big name stars are all involved.

So it makes sense in a way that adding a player with the international magnitude and appeal of David Beckham might bring a similar result for casual sports fans who might not have paid much attention to soccer before. The problem with this thinking is that for all his skill and success, Beckham the player doesn't transcend the game of soccer so much that Beckham the icon transcends the sport itself.

In other words, he's a great player -- but he really hasn't so much changed the game as much as he's played it at a master level. Worse, his greatest value on the field is in setting other players up with scoring opportunities. Casual viewers who tune in out of curiosity will find themselves quickly disappointed with the fact that Beckham doesn't really score that many goals. He's the leader of his team, no question -- but the way he plays is not something that radically changes the game or draws attention to itself.
      And that's the real problem.
Because regardless of who is or who isn't on the field or how they try to present it, professional soccer is really, really boring.

It's not that we as fans don’t understand the game. Most of us know exactly what's supposed to happen -- we've played soccer as kids, or had our kids involved. Most people have first-hand experience to let them know the endurance, balance, agility, and coordination that it takes to play the game. If anything, it's our experience with the game that hurts the sports appeal. Because the point of American youth soccer is to score goals and win the game in a convincing manner.
Which when you watch professional soccer doesn't seem to be what it's about at all.
When you hear international fans gush about soccer, they talk about the nonstop action and the way things can change in an instant. The problem is that people all around the world don't really have any idea what most Americans believe "constant action" or "an instant" actually is.

It's almost like international soccer fans use the metric system to measure these things, which of course we in this country almost religiously refuse to do. Sports fans in this country equate constant action to the idea of constant tension.

Teams scoring back to back points, end to end action -- not so much in the sense that the more points scored the better, but that the more tension that's built for fans who are hoping their team can hold on and win or the fans who are praying that their team can pull off a miracle and come from behind to win is a constant mental thing.

If your team is trying to catch up at the end of a football game, every little thing counts. Converting a third down. Stopping the clock. Stretching out the ball to get an extra yard. Each one of these little tasks have to be done right for the ultimate goal of scoring and winning to happen. In other words, major sports in this country are built on a series of smaller goals that need to be achieved for success to happen. All these things (a first down, a circus catch, a home run, a double play, etc) can be celebrated on their own merits whether the team wins or loses as a reflection of how well a team or an individual plays the game.

Soccer doesn't seem to work that way. Soccer flows. It moves back and forth. There's no such thing as end to end action on an international pitch. Soccer's a lot like arm wrestling -- it's either over in a second or it's a drawn out test of two guys pushing each other into a stalemate until one tires out or an opening presents itself to take advantage. In fact, when you think about it, professional soccer’s deliberate pace has a lot more in common with sports like cycling or distance running than it does with sports like football, basketball, or baseball.
I have tremendous respect for cyclists and runners, but you won't catch me watching them on TV
In fact when you hear soccer fans complain about American sports their major problem is that there is too much starting and stopping. It's a difference that creates an enormous rift between the way the game is played and the way the fans want to enjoy the sport itself.

Even if my team loses a game (which being a Broncos fan happens a lot) there are plays I can celebrate. There are individual moments that are successes on their own. In soccer, the only real highlights seem to be the goals and the fouls. Even though there are plenty of instances in professional and international soccer where scoring is possible, when a defensive player is able to take the ball away, or a bad pass gives the other team a chance to kick the ball back to midfield, the action itself is essentially over.

Even worse, if the constant struggle between soccer teams doesn't evolve into a scoring opportunity, then it doesn't. Coaches will play for ties. Games will end 0-0. Sure there are penalty kicks and shootouts, but is that competition or is that more like throwing a horseshoe at a stick in the ground and hoping to hit it? You either do or you don't. This means the moments of excitement in soccer that Americans are hoping for are few and far between. The actual moments of excitement that international fans appreciate aren't exciting for people in this country.
Which means the real question is -- well, why not?
Think about this for a second. International soccer has been around for ages. It's a game that can be played anywhere, a game of individual skill used in a team context. It doesn't require a certain physique, you don't need a ton of equipment, you can play with as little as two people or as many as 20 -- there's lots of reasons it's the world's favorite game.
But what I want to know is this:
When the world immigrated to the United States -- why didn't they bring it with them?
Why didn't soccer and the love for the game come across the Atlantic at the same time? History tells us that this country’s major population pushes were initialized by waves of first-generation European immigrants sweeping into the country during the periods following the major world wars. England, Italy, Ireland, Scotland -- all soccer playing countries. History also tells us that the major American spectator sport during that time period was Baseball (Babe Ruth in the early twentieth century, and other stars like DiMaggio, Mantle, etc. during the 50's) and that the major collegiate sport during the same time period was football.

Why with so many relocated families who grew up in soccer loving cultures did the sport never take hold? Was soccer shunned as a major sport during this time? Was it deemed un-American somehow? Did European immigrants shed their love for the old-world game in favor of embracing the new and different games of their adopted homelands?

I don't really have the answers for these questions. I just know the results.
Americans don't like soccer.
And unless a link is drawn between the way American sports fans enjoy the things we do and what soccer as a sport has to offer, then that bridge will never be built. For example, lets say you have a soccer game that lasts an hour and ends with a score of 2-1 (which is a pretty standard score for professional games). The first goal of the game might have come at the 24th minute of regulation.

As an American sports fan -- here's the question I absolutely need to have answered:
Were the 23 minutes before that goal part of some elaborate strategy put in place to specifically score that goal?
Did the coach gather the team up and say "Alright boys, lets run good old number 5 -- the 23 minute draw play. That should net us a point before halftime." Because if that's the way the game on the professional level works, I need to know it. I need to know that watching 20 straight minutes of what appears to be nothing has some sort of point.
But if it isn't.. Then we've got a whole new problem.
Because it pro soccer doesn't work that way, that means you schmucks are just making it up as you go along and any kind of scoring that happens is more sort of a fortunate accident than anything else.
Which is a lot like the way kids play it on weekends.
If the beauty of professional soccer is the based on the fact that grown men get paid ungodly amounts of money to play in the exact same style that unorganized kids do at the local park on Saturday -- then why should I bother to watch it? If the world's best players are just really running around in circles until halftime when they are given juiceboxes and peanut butter crackers to help them get their strength back up -- then I'm not really all that interested, you know?

I think that largely because it's Los Angeles there will be an initial buzz for Beckham's arrival. He and his wife are international celebrities. They're more of less the British Brangelina. Royals without crowns. There's a lot of excitement that follows wherever he goes. But once it comes down to watching him play on the field, I really do think it’s going to wear off a lot faster than the team, the league, and all of the people who are hoping to make money off of this would like.

But worst of all will be the moment when the ego-hound international media sensation David Beckham realizes that despite the money he's getting paid his American soccer career is an exercise in invisibility. The learning curve (if there even is one) for American fans to warm up to soccer is expected, but there's a real possibility that his playing in this league will hurt his international visibility.

Not only because he's playing in a tiny league in front of half-empty stadiums, but because MLS is a closed league. They have playoffs and championships, but they don't participate in international tournaments the way European club teams do. In other words, the champion team in MLS will not then travel to Barcelona to attempt to win the treble (which I think is a huge flaw with the way American pro soccer is set up).

Eventually there's going to come a point where Beckham will look at the diminishing crowds in the stands and ratings on the TV (unless he and his wife embark on some sort of Lohan/Hilton type self-immolating publicity run) where the man realizes that he's still a relative unknown in this country. And when that happens, the chances are really good that he'll turn his back on the league -- go back to playing international games, and resume his place as the world's most celebrated football star.
And in my mind, the moment David Beckham decides American
professional soccer isn't worth the bother will be the moment
the rest of us won't feel so bad about ignoring it either.
[Listening to:    The Pharcyde"Ya Mama" ]


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