Saturday, November 27, 2004

Maybe in '14...

Today is my 10 year high school class reunion. And I'm not going.

It's not just that it's $70 for a banquet dinner and a cash bar. It's not just that I already had plans for the evening. It's not even that I was just in Rochester for Thanksgiving and going to the reunion would mean having to drive the hour plus back and forth a total of four times in the span of just three days. I mean it is all of those things, but most of all it's that I just have no interest in seeing anyone from my high school class.

I didn't hate high school like some kids hated high school. I wasn't a Columbine-kid-in-waiting or anything. I never got beat up, I didn't get picked on an inordinate amount of times. I wasn't a jock, I wasn't popular, I wasn't "alternative." I just was. Essentially a non-entity. I'm sure if I showed up, maybe a quarter (out of my class of about 550) would remember my name. About half would probably recognize my face (although that looks different now, too). Maybe 10% would look at me and realize that they hadn't thought about me in 10 years. Probably higher than that, actually. A few would come up and say hello, and how am I doing, they're doing great. Got married or have a great job or live in Atlanta. I would have very little of interest to say I'm sure.

I have one friend that I keep in touch with from my high school class. One. I had other friends back then, but my connection to them essentially evaporated after graduation. I still remember my graduation like it just happened. I remember all the people in their red gowns and blue gowns. So many of them were crying. I remember a pretty good male friend of mine coming up to me, eyes welling up with tears, saying, "I can't believe it's over." I nodded and gave a big goodbye bear hug and told him I'd keep in touch, knowing damn well I wouldn't. It was the last time I ever saw him, and it's too bad, because he was a good kid. But even at that moment, I couldn't help thinking, "get me the f**k out of this school."

You can probably many categorize people into two groups: High school people and college people. I was definitely a college person. Nothing wrong with high school people, mind you, but it just wasn't for me. I get a little jealous of people who did really really like going to high school, because I wanted to, and I tried. But instead I used to always get that feeling of dread you get before you go to get a cavity filled. And I got it, more or less, for four years.

I never felt a part of my high school. I still don't really feel like I'm included in that Class of '94 grouping. As if my name was on the roll, but somehow I wasn't actually there. Those years were unbelievably influential in my formation as an "adult" (whether I can yet take the quotes off that last word is still being debated in several circles), but most of the people I hung out with were not actually in my class. I would love to have a huge reunion with all the people who I hung out with when I was in high school, but none of them would be invited to this reunion.

When I went to college, it was hard at first. The first semester was the hardest because of the major transition. At first, I was afraid I wouldn't make any new friends. I'm a pessimist like that. The summer after high school graduation, I always had dreams about walking across wide, bottomless chasms on narrow tightropes. On each ledge would be tall shelves with books. These tightropes took me from classroom to classroom, and this was before I set foot on campus. But that's how overwhelmed I felt at the prospect of leaving home for college. And yes, I know it's only an hour away from home, but for me at that time, I might as well have been in a different time zone.

At first the fact that I did not know one single, solitary person from my high school when I went to college was frightening. But it ended up being the best situation that I could have asked for. Because of my anonymity, I was able to reinvent myself for a new group of people. I didn't have any baggage or any history that I would have to answer for with the new group. Not only could I be myself, but my self changed, now buoyed by a much more supportive group of at-school friends. When you live with someone, you really get to know them, and my floor at Nelligan Hall was extremely tight that first year. I found my niche, for the first time in my life. High school seemed so childish after that.

It's almost a cliche that high school is like its own microcosm of a society. So many kids' social circles consist almost entirely of the people from their schools. And that's why I'd see kids who had endless gaggles of friends traveling around in the hallways and eating in the cafeteria. But how well do you really get to know people by having a couple of classes a day with them? I felt like there weren't that many people from my school who took the time to get to know me. And trust me, I make very bad first-through-fourth impressions. It's around that fifth time that I get ya, usually. But in the on-demand world we live in, most people aren't going to give you that many go 'rounds. This is why "Arrested Development" (the TV show) is probably going to be cancelled, and Arrested Development (the group) won a Grammy or something for that crappy "Tennessee" song. ("A pair of horseshoes. A pair of HORSESHOES!!!") The TV show is hard to get at first, but becomes rewarding once you "get it." The song was accessible but skin-deep.

You would think I am bitter about my high school experience, but I'm truly not. I had a lot of great times during high school, they just usually took place outside the building itself. It's not like if I went to the reunion, I would get drunk and start yelling at the kid who knocked me over in a phys ed lacrosse game or say something rude to the group of girls who laughed at me or any crap like that. But spending time with these people seems to be counterproductive. It would be like a flashback, not to Vietnam, but maybe to an unpleasant date or something.

I remember myself back then, and while I don't dislike that person, that person is no longer me. I feel that if I did go, I would have something to live up to. What, I don't know, but something. Or that I would have to pretend it was good to see people when such a meeting would clearly be mediocre-to-regrettable. And to have to endure the indignity of having to hear how good it is to see me. Please. My parents still live in the same house, if you wanted to get in touch, you could have.

Maybe it's just my own fear of going and having nothing happen. I would hate to think that the four years I spent at high school were of no consequence to others. I'm pretty sure that to be the case, but I'd rather assume I'm just being paranoid of my own insignificance than show up and get real-time confirmation.

Friday, November 26, 2004

My dad's gonna kill me for this. Here's an old album cover of (l-r) my brother, me, my dad and my mom (seated). It's our first album as Country Church, "the most bluegrasstastic quartet east of Topeka!" That's what Lester Bangs said in his 1971 review. He also said the album would "leave you with an grits-eatin' grin from ear to ear till the turd truck gets back from Diarrheaville!" I think that review may have hurt album sales, but we considered it high praise at the time. You'll find the album listed in this month's Blender magazine as a "must-have reissue." Good luck finding it, though. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Here's a good picture of Me and Will at Clark's Ale House back in February 2004. This is before our acrimonious breakup. Posted by Hello

Monday, November 22, 2004

Ode to Ron Artest

I know what Ron Artest did the other night was pretty inexcusable. There is an unwritten code (in fact, it probably is actually written down) that a player should never ever ever ever go into the stands and beat up a fan. The fans pay good money for their tickets and they have the right to cheer and boo however they want. I know that athletes are generally spoiled brats with money and no concept of consequences (and Artest is the poster child for this type of behavior).

But I loved it.

I'm not going to lie to you. I'm glad Ron Artest ran into the stands like an uncaged rhino and started beating Pistons fans down. I know it could have started a full-scale melee, already being in Riot Capital USA. And I know it was dangerous. But seriously, it was pretty awesome. Admit it, you know it was. Don't lie to me.

Why? Well, how many times have you been to a sporting event where some punk-ass, I-just-turned-21 fucker and all his boys get all liquored up and start acting like assholes. It usually starts with some loud comments pointed at the opposing team, then devolves into profanity (the presence of kids is irrelevant to these jerks), and later, if you're lucky, the picking of fights.

Now, I've been there. I was 21 once, for a whole year, in fact. And not to sound self-righteous, but I always behave myself at sporting events. I get very loud and yes, often boisterous at games, but never have I gotten so drunk or so obnoxious that I started getting borderline violent. (Okay, there was a New England-Buffalo game I went to in September where I got close to that point with some douche-bag Patriots fans, but it was pretty good-natured.)

Pointlessly self-reflexive flashback warning! You can skip this part if you want.

The most obnoxious I've ever been at a sporting event was at a Syracuse SkyChiefs game on July 4th weekend of 2003. I was at the game with the usual cast of characters -- Dan, Javen, Will, Jitter, Phelps, Toastie -- and when I got to the game, they were already drunk, of course. (It was the 2nd inning, after all.) Danny, of course, was really in the bag, and got into a fight with an 11-year old boy about 8 rows ahead of us. The boy was telling Dan he was drunk, to which Dan replied something like, "No shit." Dan and the boy sparred verball briefly, but it never got into anything violent; mostly it was just a philosophical disagreement. I think at one point, the kid actually said, "You're sad," and I think Dan was just loopy enough to actually be slightly hurt by this. But in typical Dan Banazek fashion, he said something to the effect of, "Yeah, well you're sober!" The kid was gone by the 5th inning.

Later on during the game, we were all becoming more intoxicated, but never too rude. We were obnoxious, to be sure, but a fun-loving kind of obnoxious. I was roundly maligned for ordering a medium beer. Will and I began a rousing rendition of Gary Glitter's "Rock & Roll Part 2," a-capella style. I could tell that everyone in our section was completely annoyed by us, although some were amused by a bunch of idiots who were far too old to be acting like such jackasses. The point is, it was never a situation where any other fans would have felt in danger or threatened by us. And let's face it, P&C Stadium is such a sterile environment that it could use a little shakeup once in a while. I'd like to think we provided just that very opportunity.

I don't remember much else about the game, but I do remember, as we were walking to our cars after the game, we continued a surprisingly coherent version of "Rock & Roll Part 2" again. (You may know it as the "da dada daaaa dum...HEY! dada dadum" song they play at nearly every sporting event these days.) And just as the drum solo comes in ("boom ba boom ba boom ba HEY, boom ba boom ba boom ba HEY"), I -- acting as the conductor of this glorious symphony -- started walking backward and shushing everyone with a single index finger to my lips, while tapping the cadence in the air to the imaginary drums. I hadn't realized a flock of onlookers had been staring with amused horror at my stupidity, until Jitter addressed the puzzled mob, pointed at me and said matter-of-factly, "Medium beer, folks." I felt like a real ass.

End of flashback.

There is such a contingent of violent fans these days, and security rarely does anything about it. How many times have your good seats been ruined by some drunken asshole who won't shut his mouth, and security just shakes their head and laugh.

And how much would you love that loudmouth little punk, who's been yelling at some guy for the whole game, have a player come off the field of play and beat the living shit out of him? Well the other night, it happened. My favorite part, incidentally, was the kid wearing the black shirt and glasses in the stands who was laughing it up and clearly mocking Artest, until he realized that big Ron was coming after him. Suddenly his face goes from, "ha ha, you suck Artest" to "holy mother of God it's me the crazy bastard is coming after." Watching that little bitch's face change from drunken laughter to abject horror -- and eventually to "being-bashed-in" -- is a moment I relish. I don't care if he threw the first beer or not. To me it ranks up there with 20/20's John Stossel getting his meat lumped by wrestler David "Dr. D" Schultz" when he asked him if it was fake or not. I hope whoever did throw that first beer got an ass-whoopin' too, because like Dan says, "I can't help but shudder when I think about how much the beer fans were tossing cost."

The great thing about this event is that it sets a precedent. Sure, this is unlikely to happen again in the United States for a long time. But the next time some rowdy shit-kickin' hick gets all lit up on PBR and acting like a degenerate, he has to wonder, in the back of his mind, is that guy gonna come up and kick my ass? He'll consider it, won't he? And maybe he'll shut the fuck up until the National Anthem is finished.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Four Phases of Me Being Bombed

Phase One: Inebriated Fog

Phase Two: Descent into Peristaltic Distress

Phase Three: Fleeting Relief and Euphoria Due to Little Debbie's Snack Cakes

Phase Four: Vertigo and Loss of Ability to Stand

[picture not available]

Phase Five: Loud Vomiting

Movie Review - Sideways

For the second time in as many weeks, I actually went to the movies. Now, going to the movie theater is one of my favorite things to do. And choice of theater is crucial. There is a beautifully rickety "movie house" on Westcott Street in Syracuse, where they play a lot of independent and low-budget fare. So if it's a choice between going to the Westcott or going to the mall, I choose the Westcott every time. It's the kind of place my mom and dad used to take me when I was a kid. (In Rochester, there are no theaters in the mall, only near them. By the way, if you're ever in Roch, the best theater is The Little Theatre on East Ave, a great venue for fans of indies.)

Last night the feature was Sideways, a very unusual movie about (among other things) a mid-life crisis. It's unusual not in an Oliver Stone or David Lynch way, but because of its story. In a nutshell, two buddies, Miles (a neurotic wannabe novelist) and Jack (a small-time actor/big-time philanderer), go on a trip to California wine country to celebrate Jack's impending wedding. Miles wants to drink wine and play golf, Jack wants to get laid. It's a simple premise, but what follows is one of the more tonally interesting films I've seen in a while. I call it a buddy-comedy-slash-romantic-drama. Some people call it "Swingers for 40 Year Olds" but that's a bit too glib to describe it, although it is fitting in many respects.

Some thoughts:

+ Alexander Payne is one of our best young filmmaking talents. Well, he's over 40, but his films are relatively recent. If you haven't seen his three other major films, see them. Citizen Ruth is a comedy about the abortion-rights debate, and it's both funny and even-handed. Election is a well-crafted satire. About Schmidt, the story of a small man dealing with his own purpose in life, has one of the most emotionally satisfying and uplifting endings I've ever seen.

+ Paul Giamatti is a great character actor, but this movie proves he can carry a film on his own. As Miles, he is the perfect combination of self-depricating humor and self-loathing pathos. He is hilarious and heartbreaking, often simultaneously. Thomas Haden Church makes a welcome return as Jack, the guy who just wants to let loose before he's bound by the shackles of marriage (as he sees it, initially). And Virginia Madsen may be starting to show a little age, but she has a loveliness about her in this movie that keeps Miles believing in happiness.

+ This movie vascillates between drama and comedy like almost no movie I've ever seen. One of Payne's strengths as a writer is the ability to find the funny things in tragedy, and lend some weight to comedy. The events that happen between the two men are usually very amusing, even if they are disastrous. But when they are dealing with the various women they encounter, Miles's thoughts often turn to his ex-wife, causing him to tailspin. But the tone changes so frequently that the film is nearly impossible to categorize.

+ This is a movie for grown-ups. I'm not really a grown-up yet, I guess, but I enjoyed/appreciated it nonetheless. I'll probably like it even more in about 15 years when I'm older and balder and going through some sort of midlife crisis. It really taps into the "my life is half over and what have I done" feeling that people over 40 tend to get. The conversations are like those that real people have. There are no plot-contrivance misunderstandings or cheap ways out of situations.

+ Wine is a major character in this movie. Miles is so obsessed with wine, and so in tune with its virtues, that to some degree he equates his own life with the life of grape that becomes wine. This is highlighted in one key scene of the movie, but is never touched on so much as to be trite.

My grade: A-

Weekend at Arafat's

I'm so sick of sequels. Can't anyone come up with an original idea anymore? At least they got the original cast together again. This one was created by my buddy John Johnson to commemorate the untimely and tragic death of a Nobel Peace Prize Winner. (Not a bad rendition at all considering the remedial paint shop program he had to use to do it.) Really sad to see him go. I guess in 20 years when Osama finally kicks the bucket, we'll have all sorts of tributes to him on the news, too. Posted by Hello

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Caucasians United!

On Tuesday night, we played in our D-League basketball game, our third of the season. Though we were seeing marked improvement, it was obvious that our next opponent -- Latinos Unidos -- were going to be our toughest test yet. (You can see further perspective this by visiting Willie's and Toastie's blogs.)

Were they ever! We lost by -- and I'm not exaggerating -- 96 points. That very well may be the largest blowout in the history of basketball going back to the great James Naismith's original 13 rules. Certainly the largest of the shot clock era. Were we outmanned? Yes. Were we outplayed? Of course. Were we out-talent...ed...? No question.

Were we outclassed? Not a chance.

This team went on a 40-0 run. I'll repeat that score so you know it's not a typo. 40-0. Forty to zero. And yet, for the rest of the game, this team continued to full-court press us and run all kinds of fancy run-and-gun plays on us. Sure, they were able to do it, and it was all legal, but was there any honor or integrity involved? No way.

(Side note: I was injured slightly. Nothing big, but I have a small triangle of bruises around my left eye. I was trying to be strong in the paint on defense, and when an errant shot was coming down, I naturally jumped for it. Simultaneously, one of the larger Latinos Unidos came down on me with an elbow to the face. It wasn't intentional, but it was a foul. Yet no foul was called. I was knocked to the ground shell-shocked for a few moments, and came out of the game. When halftime rolled around, I went to one of the refs -- with whom we entrusted $36 per team -- if there was a foul called on that play, as I had been too groggy to notice. The ref said there was no foul; his ref crony chimed in saying oh no no, the ball hit me. It was the ball. Now, I don't have a shiner or anything, but looking at my eye, it's clear that no basketball made this imprint. The bruises are in positions where a basketball could not left the remnants. Also, my glasses were snapped in half from the impact. I'm no forensics specialist, but the way my specs broke was more indicative of a sharp, elbow-like blow than a round, blunt blow. I asked my teammates, "Did the ball hit me in the face?" And one of my teammates said, "If by 'ball' you mean 'elbow,' then yes." Seriously, what do you have to do to get a foul in this league?)

This team did not do the Latino people proud. Now a lot of people will say, "I'm not a racist, but...." Well, I really am not a racist. I love all people of all races. I was what one might call a "wigger" in high school (and what one would now call "a teenager"), and in college I lived with a multi-ethnic group for a few years. I really have no hatred, malice or prejudice against any race or ethnic contingent. So like I was saying, I'm not a racist but...

These players were reinforcing every stereotype that you could think of regarding inner-city youths. They were talking trash, showboating, yelling when others were taking shots, full-court pressing all game long (did I mention that?). All the reasons that white racist people hate the inner-city athlete, they exemplified. I started to hate these guys. They probably aren't bad guys, but the classless way they conducted themselves over the course of this game was off-putting. It wasn't fun anymore, now it was just irritating. It was to the point that when I saw any people of latino descent for the next few days, I subconsciously became embittered, because it reminded me of this game. (This brings on the notion of racism due to prior experience with a certain race, but that's a topic for another blog.)

It makes me angry inside to know that this stupid basketball game made me feel like that. But it did. We found out later that these guys played for the Spanish Action League, but I must say I was not impressed with this organization, considering the cocky and trash-talking manner in which these young men conducted themselves. If this team is one of the ways you are reaching out to the community, well, I'm afraid Latinos Unidos are simply setting themselves back. I can't imagine people watching a bunch of guys act like this (whether it be in organized play or a pick-up game on a playground) and being impressed with their conduct. Very very disappointing. (And I'm sorry, when you're pressing all game long and you're up by 75 points, don't play the "That's how we play" card. You're not protecting the integrity of your defensive philosophy, you're trying to humiliate the other team. Don't bullshit me.)

It was a very disappointing hour of my life. But my friend Mr. (soon to be Dr.) Mark Phelps helped me see the perspective of all of it. We were in the locker room, taking off our sweaty clothes (to change into clean ones, you filthy little pigs) and one of the Latinos overheard me and Phelps talking about Phelps being in med school. (Phelps, the poor bastard, stood for 12 straight hours for surgery, and still came up with some solid rebounding for our team. I'm proud of ya, Phelpsy.) The guy mentioned that he had had some surgery a few years prior because of a tumor or some shit. Whatever. I was still pissed off about my aching eyeball.

Then Phelps, better man than me, told the guy they played very well and congrats and good luck, etc. The guy said thanks. He mentioned that they practiced at least 3-4 times a week and were the champions at every level in which they played. I sort of shook my head. When the guy left, Phelps said, "You can tell that's all they have." And he was right. Phelps continued, "I don't get my self-esteem from playing basketball, but you can tell that's where he gets his." Again, he ain't pre-med for nothing, folks. I realized, if this makes them feel better about themselves, let 'em have it. I don't get my self-esteem from playing hoops either. And thank God for that.

Besides, tonight we went to Clark's Ale House and totally whooped some ass in trivia. We came in 2nd place, only lost by 5 points, and got a $15 gift certificate, all with a pretty good turnout, too. I'd like to see the Latinos Unidos do that. I'll guarantee we would win by more than 96. Bring that shit to my house, bitches.

Shameless Plug for My Friends' Blogs

Hey guys, if you like my blog (and why wouldn't you!) why don't you give these blogs a try? These are some close friends of mine who all have something interesting to say. Well, most of the time anyway. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!! The list is alphabetical. Please visit these blogs and leave comments about how awesome I am.

+ Jaime Avery loves sports. That's about all I know about her, really. You'll have to ask her the rest. She's just starting out on the blogging thing, but she seems to enjoy it. Even if she hasn't written very much... (hint, hint)

+ Dan Banazek is one of the first people I met in college. He is one of the smartest and funniest as well. His lips are divine. I'm jealous of him. I pray he never writes a sober blog. He is a beacon of witty, intellectual light in an otherwise hackneyed, gauche world.

+ Javen Bohall is my secret boyfriend. Well, it's not so secret anymore is it? Uh-oh! Javen and I probably fight more than we get along, but somehow it makes us closer every time. Javen actually deleted a blog entry, for shame! But he has rallied nicely with a litany of posts, most with photography included!

+ Mike Cialini is very bitter. Mike is one of my friends from high school. He's a military man and a Howard Stern fan. He used to listen to heavy metal until I intervened. He has a blog, but doesn't actually "write" anything in it.

+ Casey "Toastie" Cregg is one of my favorite people. Always quick with a joke or a light of your smoke. He's 5'11" and scruffy. Toastie is so good-natured and fun-loving that even a kick to the groin makes him giggle. Try it!

+ Will Emerson is a very bitter man, though he has nothing to be bitter about since his Red Sox and Patriots both won their respective sports' championships in the same calendar year. He once ate a bleu cheese sandwich. Willie can recite words from television shows and movies and you would think that he was the actor playing the part. Amazing.

+ Kathie Russell is a girl that I've lived with for about 5 or 6 years, so we're still in that "getting to know you" phase. I had no idea she could write! Or kan she?????

+ John "J.T." Tomsich (aka Uncle Jitter) is very very tall. He's taller than you are. He plays basketball in Portugal. He is the Vince Vaughn in our version of Swingers. I miss him so much it hurts sometimes. Did I say that out loud?

(Note: I was trying to find a way to put this on some sort of fancy list that would go down the right side of the webpage, so it would always be there, but I don't know how to do it. Does anyone know how? If so, can you tell me?)

Saturday, November 13, 2004

This is a picture taken of me exactly ten years ago this week. I was a freshman in college. Look at those eyebrows! Where did they go? Peep the earring! The baby-face! Same rough-n-tumble attitude, though! Some things never change...
 Posted by Hello

Movie Review - The Incredibles

I saw The Incredibles last night. I'm ready to go on a holiday movie barrage pretty soon. I have been such a cinematic piece of sh*t this year. I've been to the theater like maybe 5 times total. Pathetic for a self-proclaimed cinephile. Disgusting.

Anyway, Pixar may have the highest hit-to-miss ratio of any movie studio in history. It seems like everything they put out is simply top notch. Not only do they have one of the greatest CGI departments in the world, but they have a creative team (mostly John Lasseter) that puts story and narrative first, effects and other stuff second. It's fun to see all sorts of effects and gadgets, but if there is no plot or emotional investment, who cares? The Incredibles is perhaps the most mature and fully-realized film Pixar has ever made. It was written and directed by Brad Bird, who also created the outstanding, underrated (and horribly marketed) The Iron Giant. That film, like this one, was a mature vision, a cartoon that lives in the realm of reality.

The Incredibles is the perfect balance between whimsy and gravity. It's not as slight as, say, Monsters, Inc. but it's not as heavy as something like Spirited Away. Instead, The Incredibles is an exhilarating thrill-ride that never stops its momentum. And while there is a lot of funny stuff, it never is done cheaply or at the peril of the story.

Some observations:

+ Craig T. Nelson (you may remember him from the TV show "Coach") was the perfect choice to play Mr. Incredible. His balance between strength, frustration and vulnerability is the anchor the hold the film together. Holly Hunter is also great as Elastigirl, grounded, but not invincible.

+ The CG backgrounds are hands-down the best I've ever seen. At no point did I see anything that looked poorly crafted or less-than-realistic. The different landscapes here are magnificent; the art-deco buildings in the city, the lavish island lair of the enemy Syndrome, the cookie-cutter ranch houses of the suburban home of the family of heroes, the decadent home of the designer Edna. When you have minds as fertile as the ones at Pixar, it's amazing to see the worlds they create.

+ This may be the least funny of all the Pixar movies, but that's not an insult. Rather than relying on throwaway humor or cheap jokes, the film only puts the funny stuff where it would naturally be. Mr. Incredible is not wise-cracking and does not trade in pop culture references. It's a surprisingly restrained, pre-ironic script and adds to the force of the film.

+ When it's all over, this film is really about family. Everything else is just window dressing, as they say. Mr. Incredible thinks he has to leave his dull life to find adventure, but realizes his family is the most important thing of all. Sure it's a trite little lesson, but it really works in the context of the film.

+ Director Brad Bird seems to have a bit of an obsession with 1950s/early-1960s Americana. (See The Iron Giant for other examples.) From the newsreel footage to the dress of the characters, to the homes, to the almost 007ish mood of the film, Bird really captures a different time period from our own.

It gets an A- from me.

Monday, November 08, 2004

A Truth Not Easily Learned is One You Don't Forget

"After all these implements
and texts designed by intellects,
we're vexed to find
evidently there's still so much that hides.

And though the saints dub us divine
in ancient fading lines
their sentiment is just as hard
to pluck from the vine.

I'll try hard not to pretend
Allow myself no mock defense
as I step into the night."

"Saint Simon," The Shins

If you're lucky, in your lifetime, you get to know one person or creature that is so pure in his or her beauty or divinity, that having known the person enriches your life more than you can measure. and yet having to endure going on without them is nearly unbearable.

I want to preface this by saying that I know having a pet is not even 1/100th of having a child. I would never try to compare the two, and don't mean to belittle anyone's experience where they have lost a child; I don't have any pretensions to that effect. But since I don't have any kids yet, I figured it was best to get this thought on the record while I still have my innocent perspective.

Earlier in 2004, my little orange kitten, Simon, died. Got him in November 2003, he died in April. He was the singular most purely sweet and loving creature I have ever known. I truly loved him. He would climb into my hooded sweatshirt and take a nap for two hours, listening to my heart beat. He would run up to me and "knead" my stomach or my chest for a half hour. I would wake up and he would be lying on my bed, staring at me. He was the cutest and most playful little animal ever created, in my opinion. He would hide in the upper branches of the Christmas tree. He carried around a little stuffed mouse, and if you came near him he would growl at you. He had smoky blue eyes, and you could tell by looking at them that he loved you back. He was a divine little prince. He loved me unconditionally.

And yet he was born with a fatal disease that wasn't discovered until the day he died. He never saw a summer day.

The veterinarian told us he should be put to sleep that day, and if he wasn't he would probably have to endure a very painful demise. The vet called about 8 PM on a Monday night and asked for the OK to put him down. We knew it was the right thing to do, to let him go. Having to make that decision was excruciating, giving up on someone you love so much, even though it was clearly the right thing to do.

When we hung up with the vet, I ran to my room like I was 4 years old again and cried. And cried and cried. I couldn't stop. I was wailing, moaning involuntarily. It was one of those cries where you feel there aren't enough holes in your head to get all the tears out, and so your head feels like a garden hose on full throttle that someone is stepping on. My eyes were beet-red and I was out of breath, desperately trying to purge the anguish I was feeling. I felt like I had gone through all seven or eight stages of grief, or however many there are, in about 20 minutes. I feared my own death one degree less that day, knowing that I when I pass on to the other side, my little Simon will be the first one to greet me at the gates.

Was it better to have never known him? Having him and then having to be deprived of him, seemed cruel. Had I never met him, I wouldn't know that the I was ever missing the light he provided. Having seen his blazing radiance, and now being without it, things seemed darker now than they ever had.

(Look, I know he was a cat, but you had to know him.)

It took me a long time to realize that, as painful as losing him was, knowing him for the brief time I did was worth it. It's one of the most valuable life lessons I've ever had from a big-picture perspective. Taking risks and embracing people is what life is about. Otherwise, we are so gun-shy, we're too afraid of getting hurt to let anyone in.

For much of my early life, I was afraid to become close to people for many reasons. For some, it was that I felt I wasn't worthy of being a friend, part of the inferiority complex I still have to a certain extent. For others, it was I was so scared they would find me obsessive that I was afraid to tell them how I felt about them; or worse, they wouldn't feel the same way. Even to have a girl find out that I liked her back then was tantamount to wearing a scarlet "C" for crush. It wasn't until early adulthood that I felt comfortable telling someone how much they meant to me (family excluded, they can't reject you), and even now it takes almost infinite trust and lots of carefully chosen words to do so.

I'm sure in my life, I will feel some heartbreak and rejection because of becoming too close to people or allowing myself to become too attached to them, only to lose them for one reason or another. But these are the events that create us, our true selves. I would not be the same person I am now if it weren't for the people I knew who died or who left me. And while the loss of a friend stings for a long time -- sometimes forever -- it's a red badge of courage I would gladly wear, especially when the alternative is building up the foreboding callouses of being too safe and self-protective to care about someone.

So if Simon taught me nothing else, he taught me that every friendship you pursue is a risk. Some friendships end with devastating pain. Some fizzle. Some last forever. It wasn't until I began taking that risk that I ever found happiness. What is life worth if you don't try to fill it with other people?

So if you have the address to this blog, chances are you know me. And if you know me, you are crucially important to me. And yes, I do mean you.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Four More Years? Really?

My first instinct this morning when I woke up was, "Well, we're all f*cked." If this election was a referendum on the president's performance over the last four years, I don't know what the people who voted for him were smoking. Especially you, Ohio. Talk about a state that has gone to the shitter since 2000. And yet you're happy enought to keep Bushie running things? Well, you got what you wanted, I guess.

Then I looked at the map. And I realized, maybe I'm just out of touch. Maybe I'm the one that's way off. When you look at the red states and blue states, Kerry basically carried the two coasts, New England and some midwest Canadian border states. Bush took every other single state. He took the deep south, the southwest, the heartland, the plains and the redneck states. So how can you argue with that? Maybe these particular states had information that I was never presented with regarding the merits of the Prez. Did they get certain advertisements on their television sets that I was never privy to in New York State? Maybe they are far more educated than me about the issues, these voters.

But then I looked at the electoral map in 2000. It's exactly the same, with the exception of New Hampshire voting for Bush in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. (New Mexico, Iowa and Ohio have not been officially tabulated as I write this.) Is there an information gap that is causing people from West Virginia and Idaho to have information as to the president's virtues that I haven't gotten? I'm all ears, people. I was willing to hear the pro-Bush movement's case. I don't think it's a matter of most people knowin the issues or looking objectively at facts (myself included). It's a major cultural divide.

When they talk about this country being more divided than ever, and I don't think it's just lip service. I really believe we have a major cultural chasm that can't be easily ignored. How do you explain the nearly identical voting in the last 4 years. Now, I know that who you vote for in the presidental election doesn't mean you are mortal enemies with someone who voted for the opposing side, and that you can't get along with them. One of my dearest friends, Mr. Javen Bohall, sees many issues in diametric opposition to my own point of view. Yet we remain the closest of friends. So these are ideological, not personal differences I'm speaking of. But with a country so deeply divided, how can we fix it? I think it's a very simple solution: as long as the country is already split in two, why not just split it in two!

Now, most of you will say, "Bill, this has been tried before back in the mid-1800s. It caused a civil war. In fact, it caused THE Civil War. Surely you can't be serious." Oh I am serious. We have the hindsight of history to show us the DO's and DONT's of seceding from the union, so we can avoid that silly Civil War mess. Instead, we just create two countries that are sort of interconnected, but also sort of sovereign from each other. It'll be kind of like the American and National leagues in baseball. Here's how it works: we make one country out of the following states: Washington, Oregon, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and all of New England. Oh, and Washington D.C. Kerry can be the president of these states. The majority of the state is okay with it. We'll call this country the United-Divided States of America (the good old U.D.S. of A.), but divided geographically, not idealogically.

This leaves all the other states, all which touch each other, as the United-United States of America (UUSA). Seriously, this is a great idea. The heartland can have their boy, the liberal elite can have theirs. We can make certain main roads like I-90 and Route 66 into "No Man's Lands" where citizens of both countries can travel, that way, people like myself who don't like to fly can drive from New York to Washington State and then down to Oregon to see a Portland Trailblazers game. Everybody wins! In order to unite the country, isn't it best just to divide it?

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Eve of Two Debacles - Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Tomorrow is a big day for me. It's a day I have been waiting for for quite a while. Both days promise to end in crushing disappointment.

First of all, there's that little election thing. I fully expect George W. Bush to win the election. I think he has the support of most of the "heartland" of America, and I think his hardcore supporters are more organized than their Democratic counterparts. I will vote for John Kerry tomorrow, but New York State is a foregone conclusion anyway and my vote means even less than it did in 2000. I really can't see how any rational human being -- Democrat or Republican -- can feel confident about Bush's record. When I see people in the crowds on shows like Hardball, I think to myself, "Have the last four years been that great for you? How shitty was your 1999 that your 2000-2004 was an improvement?" Ironically, I personally am far better off this year than I was when Clinton was in office, but I don't think 'W' really had anything to do with it.

I understand a lot of what Republicans think and I am very much on board with a lot of their issues. But if you're coming down to leadership, do people really think that when Bush wins (I have a $10 bet that he will, I'm hoping to at least make some money off the deal), he's suddenly going to fix the messes he's created? He's had 3 years of governing and 1 year of campaigning to do it all. Now that he doesn't face the spectre of having to be re-elected, what will his motivation be to make good decisions? I would hate to think that people would vote for Bush for either, a) one divisive issue, like these idiots who vote ONLY on gun control or ONLY on abortion or ONLY on separation of church and state or ONLY gay marriage, or b) blind party loyalty.

I would hate for it to be the latter. In 2000, I gave up my Democratic party affiliation because I didn't feel Al Gore was a strong leader, and I didn't like the direction the party was headed. Ironically, it was George Bush who has strengthened the Democrats and made them more united than ever, and brought the common sense of the party back. I'm even coming back to them this election. But unconditional party loyalty makes no sense to me. Why would you vote for a person you know deep in your heart is not doing the job, and is not in control, and does not have the capacity to deal with real-world issues, just because he wears the elephant or the donkey on his lapel? If a Democrat like Hillary Rodham Clinton runs against a Republican like John McCain in 2008 (and it could happen, couldn't it?), you bet your sweet can I'd be all over McCain's jock in that election. See? It's easy, people!

The fact is, I was right behind Bush after 9/11 and at the onset of the Iraq War, but he has proven over and over again (no matter how many chances and "he's-our-president-let's-stand-behind-him" benefits of the doubt I've given him) that he just is not capable of transcending his myopic view of things. He calls it "resolve," I call it "tunnel vision." I don't think the guy's evil like a lot of people do, but I do think he is in way way way over his head. (And to suggest that somehow Kerry will be soft on terrorists is stupid. Anyone can take any quote out of context and make it sound like another person is soft. And no one takes things out of context better than the hardline Bush supporters this year. No one.)

Now if you don't like Kerry, I can kind of understand that. He comes off as arrogant and wishy-washy. But I have not heard one single compelling argument that suggests he will do a worse job than Bush has already done. Anyone who wants has one day to convince me to vote for Bush. Actually, they've had the last year to do it and no one has been able to. Your boy had his chance to do something and he has not made one significant improvement. Even the Texas Rangers got better after he left. THE TEXAS RANGERS!

I'll say this, if Bush does win, I will get behind him as I would get behind any president because I believe in supporting the country. But if he looks this second chance in the mouth and continues to defy good judgment over the next four years, don't blame me for it.

The other, and far more important quagmire I find myself entering tomorrow, is our baskeball league. We're playing for the Change of Pace, our local watering hole on Grant Blvd in Syracuse. I will be playing. I am actually the captain of our team. How the hell that ever happened is completely beyond me. But one thing is certain about our team; we are going to be crushed. We are likely going to be crushed by every team who faces us. We have had no time to practice, and I have not touched a basketball in nearly 6 months.

Granted, the last time I did was the Pabst Invitational Tournament in my driveway on Memorial Day, where my good friend AJ and I disposed of some haters and perpetrators to advance to the finals. But that was months ago, folks. Today I am as out of shape as I've ever been, fat with Halloween candy and fried foods. I had planned -- nay, vowed -- to start running to get in shape for the games, but then I would get home and look at the inviting warmth of my couch, or be invited to enjoy some delicious alcoholic malt beverage after work, and suddenly, not collapsing on the basketball court didn't seem so important to me. I only have about 24 hours to get in shape. But as motivated as I am, I'm sure I'll be just fine. If I'm not dead tomorrow, I'll make sure I note the results. (Oh Jitter, where are you when we need you???)

Remember me well. In fact, remember me better than I actually was. It's not too hard.

Best Hip Hop Albums of the 1990s - The Beats List

Since I am having some trouble coming up with a blog topic on my week off, I decided to make a list of the fifteen or so greatest hip hop (or "rap" as it used to be called) albums of the 1990s. I have not included lyrical content whatsoever in this list. Also, it's one of those lists where I'll think of obvious ones that I forgot, so I may go back and edit this list. I don't expect anyone who knows me to have any interest in this list whatsoever, but I'm doing it for posterity and my own reference. Heeeere we go...

15) DE LA SOUL - "Buhloone Mind State" (1993): De La were always a bunch of wacky pranksters, more interested in funny skits and nutty sound-collages than in creating great music, at least in my opinion. But on this album, they grow up, and I mean big time. It's maybe the must "musical" of any rap album I've ever heard. It's mature and really really gorgeous at some points. The jazz riffs are perfectly placed, or played in some cases. It's a great intro for people who maybe think rap is too hardcore or negative. This album is a real beaut. Download: "Patti Dooke," "Ego Trippin' (Part Two)," "3 Days Later," "I Am I Be," "In the Woods," "Breakadawn."

14) ERIC B & RAKIM - "Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em" (1990): Not only is Rakim one of the five greatest rappers of all time (and anyone who puts Biggie or Tupac in the same league clearly has no idea what good MC'ing is), but the production on this album is great, feeling almost like a '70s cop movie, but more grimy. The lyrics are almost -- ALMOST -- overshadowed by the dark instrumentals. Rakim's golden pipes are the perfect compliment to the basement-deep soundscape. Download: "Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em," "No Omega," "Run for Cover," "Mahogany."

13) RAEKWON - "Only Built for Cuban Linx N****z" (1995): All Wu-Tang fans thought this album was going to suck, but it is clearly (with the possible expection of GZA's "Liquid Swords") the best Wu-Tang solo album. The songs are all about some kind of Black Mafia, with all sorts of Italian aliases and the whole thing is a little silly lyrically. But the production is incredible. Just remarkable stuff. Some of it is intense, some of it is jazzy, but nearly every track is outstanding. Download: "Verbal Intercourse," "Criminology," "SpotRusherz," "Knuckleheadz," "Guillotine (Swords)," "Wisdom Body," "Wu-Gambinos."

12) PETE ROCK & CL SMOOTH - "Mecca and the Soul Brother" (1992): This is an exhausting double-album, but in the best way. CL Smooth is the caramel-voiced guide through the album, but since he really doesn't say all that much, the horn-laden beats of Pete Rock dominate the album. This album turned Pete Rock from unknown to wunderkind producer. The beats are all catchy and would fit in at a family reunion as much as a hip hop club. Very mainstream sound, but without sacrificing quality of music. Download: "For Pete's Sake," "Act Like You Know," "Wig Out," "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y)," "On and On," "Can't Front on Me," "The Creator," The Basement," "Skinz."

11) A TRIBE CALLED QUEST - "The Low End Theory" (1991): Maybe the best testament to a hip hop album's influence and innovation is if it can somehow bend another genre of music to sound like hip hop rather than the other way around. There were a lot of jazz-rap groups before and after the Tribe (Gang Starr, Dream Warriors, Black Sheep, Digable Planets), but this is the first album to grab jazz by the horns (get it? haha) and make force it to sound like hip hop, and not try to make a hip hop song sound jazzy. This album is the perfect confluence of the two genres. It's a rap album that comes from jazz tradition instead of just shoe-horning the sound into the songs. Download: "Buggin' Out," "Show Business," "Check the Rhime," "Jazz (We've Got)," "Scenario."

10) GANG STARR - "Hard to Earn" (1994): Gang Starr had always been a pioneer in jazz-rap, but on this album, they branched out from the confines of the bebop jazz style and went into darker territory. The jazz is still there, but now it's more of an accent to the harder edge this group took. Lead rapper Guru had always been the positive mouthpiece for DJ Premier's beats. (DJ Premier, by the way, is probably the greatest hip hop producer that ever lived.) But here, Guru takes control and the instrumental reflects his new-found anger and edge. And it's a natural hardness, not one cooked up by a record company. Or at least it doesn't feel that way. Download: "Alongwaytogo," "Code of the Streets," "Tonz 'O' Gunz," "The Planet," "Blowin' Up the Spot," "F.A.L.A." "Comin' for Datazz."

9) EPMD - "Strictly Business" (1988): Probably the first rap-funk album. It's slow funk, oozing with lowdown funk. The lyrics service the beats and the production, but it started the East Coast funk movement. A bottom-heavy sound with a nice contrast between Erick "E Double E" Sermon's ultra laid back lispy style and Parish "PMD" Smith commanding forcefulness. Download: "Strictly Business," "You Gots To Chill," "Jane," "Let the Funk Flow," "You're a Customer."

8) A TRIBE CALLED QUEST - "Midnight Marauders" (1993): I bought this and the Wu-Tang debut album on the same day. Although most people consider "The Low End Theory" to be the superior album, I think "Midnight Marauders" actually improves on the previous record. "Low End" was a breakthrough for jazz-rap, but this album perfects the formula (though "Low End" may actually hold up better as a full album). Not only do Q-Tip and Phife's lyrics perfectly compliment the laid-back grooves, but the beats actually enhance the lyrics. The instrumentals actually mask some of the flaws of the MCs. Very symbiotic. Download: "Steve Biko (Stir it Up)," "Sucka N***a," "Electric Relaxation," "Oh My God," "Keep it Rollin'," "Lyrics to Go," "God Lives Through."

7) DJ SHADOW - "Entroducing..." (1996): This album is actually in the Guiness Book of World Records as the first album created from 100% sampled material. In other words, Shadow didn't actually produce one sound on this album, but rather took it all from other sources. And the way he created it, you would never know. The texture of the songs on this album are unlike anything else I've ever heard. There are no lyrics, but the instrumentals are fantastic. Download: "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt," "Midnight in a Perfect World," "The Number Song."

6) WU-TANG CLAN - "Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers" (1993): The album itself practically re-defined the concept of a group, putting a full nine rappers on the album as full-time group members (well, 8 and one was added later). And while the mystical kung-fu concepts and lyrics are what were the hook for many, what people forget is how truly revolutionary RZA's production was on this record. It used samples from old kung-fu movies not only in interludes but in actual songs. It's hardcore chamber music, using eerie pianos and bizarre sound effects in the context of the songs. It really feels as if it was created in a dungeon, but that creates the ominous aura that surrounds the whole record. Download: "Bring Da Ruckus," "Shame on a N***a," "Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber," "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta F'Wit," "C.R.E.A.M." "Method Man," "Protect Ya Neck."

5) REDMAN - "Whut? Thee Album" (1992): This album is a double-whammy in that not only does it may be the best East Coast funk rap album ever made, but Redman is a dynamite lyricist. He's funny and he can battle with the best of them. He even battles himself on "Redman meets Reggie Noble." This is one of the great underappreciated rap albums in history, both musically and lyrically. It's a bumping, bass-heavy album, but still doesn't sound West Coast. Download: "So Ruff," "Watch Yo Nuggets," "Redman Meets Reggie Noble," "Tonight's Da Night," "How to Roll a Blunt," "A Day of Sooperman Lover."

4) DIAMOND & THE PSYCHOTIC NEUROTICS - "Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop" (1992): Diamond is the consummate crate-digger, finding unknown and obscure instrumentals to sample, and then combining them into a dense sonic collage. Very jazzy, but more lighthearted than most of the artists on this list. Diamond's lyrics are not so great, but they carry forth the tradition of the MC serving the DJ rather than the other way around. No space is wasted and there are very few weak beats on the album. Download: "Best Kept Secret," "Sally Got a One Track Mind," "*!*! What U Heard," "Red Light Green Light," "Check One, Two," "Freestyle (Yo, That's That Sh..)," "Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop," "Feel the Vibe."

3) BLACK MOON - "Enta Da Stage" (1993): The epitome of East Coast/Brooklyn hip hop. In addition to having gangsterish lyrics, the production is straight from the gutter, juxtaposing pretty jazz flourishes with a grimy texture. A saxophone will be backed with a distorted, bottom-of-the-floor bassline that is both musically sound (meaning it sounds like a real instrumental, and not just a beat), but also menacing and dark. Plus the misspellings on the album are great. Download: "Who Got Da Props?," "Black Smif N Wessun," "Son Get Wrec," "I Got Ya Opin," "How Many MCs," "U Da Man."

2) CYPRESS HILL - "Cypress Hill" (1991): The album that changed my concept of what hip hop could do with instrumentals. I had been always loved rap but had been frustrated with repetitive beats and instrumentals that rarely deviated from their source sample. This album not only would change drum beats and insert bridges into the song (very rock) but they did it in a way that still sounded like a hip hop album and not a novelty rock album. It's the perfect marriage of rock sounds in a hip hop context. It's like the Bomb Squad on acid. Magnificent. Every track is rife with dirt and distortion. Download: "Hand on the Pump," "How I Could Just Kill a Man," "Light Another," "The Phuncky Feel One."

1) THE BEATNUTS - "The Beatnuts" (1994): Maybe my favorite album ever. The lyrics are really hedonistic and negative. They make NWA look politically responsible. Only Fashion (later Al Tariq) has any real lyrical skill, although JuJu and Psycho Les are pretty funny guys. But the beats here are beyond stellar. Not only do create a musical barrage, but the beats are so funky and raw that they completely compensate for any lack of lyrical content. The epitome of "I don't give a f**k" hip hop. Download: "Ya Don't Stop," "Hellraiser," "Let Off a Couple," "Get Funky," "Hit Me With That."

Honorable Mention: Black Sheep "A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing," Compton's Most Wanted "Music to Driveby," Del the Funkee Homosapien "I Wish My Brother George Was Here," Dr Dre "The Chronic," EPMD "Unfinished Business," Fugees "The Score," Gang Starr "Daily Operation," Group Home "Livin' Proof," GZA/Genius "Liquid Swords," Nine "Nine Livez," The Roots "Do You Want More??!!??!" Smif N Wessun "Da Shinin'"