Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Pro Football Bigamist

For several years now, I've been trying to figure out where my NFL loyalties lay. ESPN's "Sports Guy", Bill Simmons, has this concept he calls being a "sports bigamist", which basically means a fan who likes more than one team in any particular sport is a hypocritical loser jerk. The idea is that you can't harbor genuine loyalty to more than one franchise. Hence, Simmons has Clipper tickets because he lives in LA, but he'll always be a Celtic fan at heart.

Whatever.

When it comes to basketball, my unquestioned loyalty lies with the Jazz. In spite of a brief flirtation with the Chicago Bulls in the early 1990's, I've been a diehard Jazz fan since Stockton and Malone took LA to seven games back in the spring of '88.

But football is a different matter. For one thing, there is no designated home team. Lots of my friends are big college fans, but I've never found much of a passion for it. It may be because I don't like the sound of marching bands. It is more likely that I just really enjoy cheering for overpaid egomaniac super-jocks.

I think I can safely narrow down my NFL options to three primary candidates, each with valid justifications for my loyalty. If anyone reading this has anything to suggest, feel free; just know that there isn't a snowball's chance in Hades of me ever embracing the Denver Broncos. They are Satan's red-headed stepchild.

1. The Cleveland Browns

Background: Growing up in Bountiful, the closest thing my family had to a home team were the Browns. My mom grew up in Cleveland, and between her influence and the constant stream of media paraphenalia that came from my Ohio relatives, I had a consistent knowledge of the team's state of affairs. Not only that, but the Browns were pretty good in the late 80's, and I have a lot of fond memories tied to that lanky southpaw sidearm QB Bernie Kozar.

Psychological Disposition: The Browns are a lot like the Jazz, in the same way Cleveland is a lot like Salt Lake. Both are second-tier teams and cities, usually disrespected, though always putting up a totally respectable show. Both teams have passionate fan bases, who periodically get bad press for getting a little too enthusiastic at games (see Sam Wyche's criticism of Browns' fans in the early 90's, and Golden State's criticism of Jazz fans in the 2007 playoffs).

Favorite Memory: After losing their second straight AFC Championship to the Broncos, the Browns opened the 1988 season by losing three quarterbacks in their first three games. First Kozar went down, then Gary Danielson and Mike Pagel followed suit. In comes this 40+ year old geezer named Don Strock, who had been spending the better part of his career backing up Dan Marino in Miami. Suddenly the Browns are contenders again, and Strock gets the Browns within a game of the playoffs. All they have to do is beat arch-rival Houston in a Cleveland blizzard. The game goes back and forth for four quarters, then finally Strock hits Webster Slaughter in the end zone through a flurry of snowfall for a winning touchdown, and Slaughter jumps up into the Dawg Pound to celebrate. Best Browns memory, easy.

Assessment: I've never lived in Cleveland, but the Browns are the closest thing the NFL has to the Jazz, and it's the only team that I can connect to my youth as well as my adult years.

2. The Chicago Bears

Background: My only childhood memory of the Bears was being angry at them because their Super Bowl victory parade pre-empted WGN's usual broadcast of my favorite cartoon at the time, "M.A.S.K." It would be another two years before I would embrace football and all of its greatness, and I just didn't get into the Bears. Then I got my mission call to Chicago, and two years later, I had the closest thing to a legit home team I could name. Since I actually LIVED in Chicago for a time.

Psychological Disposition: The Monsters of the Midway would be a nice fit for me, as the Midwest style has always had a natural appeal. Guys like Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, and Walter Payton definitely give a strong rough-and-tumble edge to the team's history, and that story about Jim McMahon popping his shoulder back in its socket while he was at the bottom of a dogpile is pretty cool.

Favorite Memory: About two weeks before getting my mission call, I distinctly remember sitting on my couch watching a Bears game and thinking to myself, "I could be a Bears fan. I wonder why I haven't been one before now?" This is almost as surreal as getting the Chicago call after growing up watching "The Blues Brothers", the movie about the two guys in black suits who wander around The Windy City telling people they are on a Mission from God. In that sense, maybe God wants me to be a Bears fan.

Assessment: I don't know...the whole divine guidance thing, plus the fact that I actually lived on Chicago's South Side makes for a pretty strong argument. But in my heart, I feel more of a connection to the city than the team.

3. The Oakland Raiders

Background: Chances are, God doesn't want me to be a Raiders fan. I kind of picked them on my own. Back when I was ten, due to either hormones, peer pressure, or the discovery that I had a pretty decent pair of hands, I embraced football overnight. Being a visual person, I dug the Raiders for their cool uniforms, cool reputation, and Lyle Alzado. For about seven or eight years I followed them obsessively, watching old highlight videos on the team that mostly talked about their success in the 70's, since they pretty much sucked at the time I was a fan. It took about fifteen years to finally see them play in person, when I drove out to Denver with some friends to see them get destroyed by the Broncos in a Monday Night Football game. I was impressed with the Bronco cheerleaders, at least.

Psychological Disposition: Thanks to owner/general manager/evil incarnate Al Davis, the Raiders have a permanent place in the Professional Sports Axis of Evil, along with NBA's Los Angeles Lakers and MLB's New York Yankees. But the Raiders are cool. I loved the whole "group of misfits and outcasts" image; it resonated pretty close with me, especially growing up. It also fit a lot better once they moved back to Oakland. LA never really worked for Al's kids.

Favorite Memory: There weren't a lot of moments to cheer if you were a Raiders fan in the late 80's and early 90's, but there was one Monday Night Football matchup with the Broncos I'll always remember. Early in the '89 season, the Raiders got down to Denver 24-0 at halftime. There's really no way I could ever be a Denver fan. Between beating the Browns in AFC championship games three of four years and being the Raiders' in-division blood rival, it just ain't going to happen. And that was what made it all the more sweet to see the Raiders come back from 24 down for an overtime win.

Assessment: Sadly, I probably couldn't ever be an exclusive Raider fan, at least until Al Davis is gone. Ironically, the same guy who made the team appeal to me in the first place is the one thing that keeps me from completely embracing them. When I was a kid watching the team struggle in the late 80's, I was unaware that Al was working hard to undermine my favorite player, Marcus Allen. At least that's what Marcus said in his book. But there is plenty of evidence to support the idea that Big Al is the Big Reason the team has struggled for the last twenty years. I wonder if Oakland would be better off having Davis leave town again, pull an Art Modell, and reinvent his team somewhere else. Then Oakland could get the Raiders back as an expansion team and try a clean start. Or maybe that's just crazy. Yeah, that's just crazy.

* * *

Conclusion:

The Bears are my NFC team, the Browns are my AFC team, and the Raiders will always represent my evil side, and like Captain Kirk learned in "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier", you need your evil side. You need your pain.

Bigamy rules. Bill Simmons can eat my shorts.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Living in High Fidelity

Earlier this month, my sister married my roommate. Not only is Katie my only sister, but she's also my only sibling, so this was a pretty big event for the clan. It was also a faith-promoting event on several levels, and I say that without my usual dry sense of humor.

The story of how Katie and John got together is a great one, not to mention an epic one, which I tried to demonstrate in their wedding video. They were more or less best friends for ten years before they started dating, and the resulting marriage is one of those marriages that make you feel better about the world. You know, because most don’t. (There’s that dry sense of humor again…)

Not only was their story faith promoting, but so was the reception. As opposed to the standard Utah reception, Katie managed to inject a high level of her personality into the event, which resulted in a proceeding that even a weary veteran of the reception scene like myself could enjoy. Glass vases full of bright red Peeps, Tim Burton-esque table set-ups, and a killer Jazz combo gave the night a unique sense of class. Definitely worthy of my little sister.

In the meantime, her older brother is still far removed from any reception design plans of his own. Gratefully, only a few guests made the inevitable reference to my marital status during the festivities, which was lucky since I still don’t have a clever answer for the “why aren’t you married?” question. If my life were a movie, I’d have a quick one-liner on hand to dispatch nosy guests; in reality, my thoughts on the subject are usually too muddled to be coherent.

Speaking of which, last weekend I watched "High Fidelity" again, and for the last few days I've been in a John Cusack-like existential haze. The first time I saw the film, I didn't like it too much. I'm a big Cusack fan, but I thought his character was too self-absorbed and neurotic to spend two hours with. But now that I'm more self-absorbed and neurotic myself, it's a lot easier to relate.

In fact, one aspect of the film absolutely fascinates me: the fundamental notion that one way to solve your current relationship problems is to contact all your past flames and find out why they dumped you. As a chronic journal-writer and hopeless masochist, this idea appeals to me. In the movie, Cusack seeks out all the girls who have broken his heart in the hope of discovering what he lacks as a boyfriend/husband/human being. But what he finds is that he has greatly misinterpreted his past relationships, that there were situations when it was he who did the dumping, situations where the person dumping him was doing him a huge favor, and situations where he actually needed to show a little more commitment and trust. In short, he had his issues, but the long-term path was working out just the way it was supposed to. It was perfect in its imperfection.

I've often found myself in the same situation. There is a sick part of me that wants to go back and ask the women of my past why things didn’t work out. But I never do. Partially because I don't want to find out that I got rejected for being bald or nerdy, but mostly because I can't help but think that in spite of Cusack's celluloid adventure, mine would just result in a lot of painfully awkward conversations. Besides, even if John's experience isn't realistic, the lesson he learned is. I've gained enough perspective over the years to realize that most of the time, my failures were blessings in disguise, and that even though I blew plenty of opportunities, those gaffes were meant to be learning experiences, and that they're all leading on a path towards a yet unseen destination.

For Cusack it meant getting him back together with the lawyer. For me, who knows. It might lead me back to the waitress I saw at The Bluebird when I was fourteen. It could mean getting together with the mythic biker mama of my dreams, ready to ride off into the sunset with me on her Chopper of Love. I suppose there’s even a remote possibility that I’ve got a longtime friend who will switch gears on me. Regardless, if I’ve learned anything from life in the last ten years, it’s that things work out the way they’re supposed to. We just have to maintain enough perspective to appreciate it.

And in that sense, I guess the only true answer to the “why aren’t you married?” question is this:

Timing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Breakfast Cereal Olympics

I'm not a breakfast guy. Never have been. I love bacon, but I've never been very keen on eggs, pancakes, waffles, any of that stuff.

The only breakfast staple I can claim any kind of experience with is cereal. That's about all I ever ate for breakfast when I was a kid, so I feel somewhat justified in writing about them.

Here are my results for the first and only Breakfast Cereal Olympics. Since they are my own Olympics, and not any real kind of sanctioned Olympics, I'm going to give out awards for the worst entries as well. We'll go with them first, so this entry will have a nice "negative to positive" tone arc.

3. Wheaties


I can't think of any cereal that's a bigger scam than Wheaties. For years they've been playing off this athletic image, plastering the Jock-du-Jour on the box and jazzing it all up so that kids are totally convinced that eating their cereal will propel them to professional sports greatness. Then they open up the box expecting the greatest thing this side of performance-enhancing drugs, and instead find one of the most colossally lame excuses for cereal that ever lined a grocery aisle. Dumb brown flakes. Utterly flavorless. Nothing that even hints of Michael Jordan. The only thing you get by eating your Wheaties is to learn that most important of sports lessons: if you want to make the team, do what you're told and don't question authority.

2. C3PO's


I'd rank C3PO's as a bigger scam than Wheaties, except that it only lasted for a year or two, whereas Wheaties has been duping kids for decades. Sometime in the early 80's, George Lucas and Co. decided to bring the world of Star Wars to the breakfast table, because it wasn't enough that kids were playing with Star Wars toys before sleeping in Star Wars sheets while wearing Star Wars Underoo's that were stained with the toothpaste from their Star Wars electric toothbrushes. And yes, I had each of the aforementioned items. My underoo's were the Han Solo kind, in case you're wondering.


Yeah, so anyway, out comes this cereal called C3P0's, and in spite of being named after the lamest character from the original Star Wars trilogy, my friends and I just about poop ourselves with delight. Then we actually ate the cereal, and began to wonder if eating the box might have been tastier.

Thing is, George decided that if he was going to make a cereal, he was going to do the responsible thing and make it healthy. But in the world of breakfast cereal, healthy usually translates into: "soulless cereal that tastes like crap". And it did. We could have had Death Star shaped crunchy cocoa things with X-Wing marshmallows, instead the best thing any kid got out of a box of C3PO's was a cardboard cutout of Mark Hamill's face.

1. Cheerios


No cereal in the history of time has been any lamer than Cheerios. It is the benchmark of the flavorless junk cereals parents use to torture their kids. I don't care if it is healthy. There's no worse way to start a day--especially for a non-morning person--than to chomp down on a bowl of lifeless little loops that come out of a crappy yellow box. We might as well have been eating Special-K.

Fortunately for all of us, one guy who knew how to deal with Cheerios was Director Richard Donner. In the original cut of 1978's "Superman", there's this extended opening scene on the morning Clark decides to leave his Norman Rockwell childhood to be a stumble-bum in New York. Before she spots him standing dramatically in the field, Clark's earth-momma walks around the house for about ten minutes setting up shop, prominently holding a box of Cherrios the whole time. She's always holding it face towards the camera, too, driving home the point that if you eat Cheerios, your alien super-son will leave you one day, too.

Donner wound up cutting the shots from the final release. Good for him.

Now, on to the good ones...

Bronze Medal: Cracklin' Oat Bran


Cracklin' Oat Bran looks like dog food. It's also considerably more expensive than most other cereals. Yet almost on taste alone, it is worth the shortcomings. It is even worth a critical time-sensitive nature that prevents you from enjoying the cereal for more than thirty seconds after because it gets too soggy. In spite of the "Oat Bran" moniker, COB has a sweet taste to it that is anything but bland.

Truly a fine cereal...worthy of a bronze medal, anyway.

Silver Medal: Boo Berry


I don't know who came up with the idea of putting marshmallows in cereal, but that person is a genius. Growing up, I didn't get the sweet cereals too often, most of the time Corn Pops or Trix was about as far as my parents would go. But every now and then, I got to enjoy one of the greatest edible concoctions of modern man: little dark blue crunchy ghosts mixed with pale blue marshmallow ghosts. Count Chocula was too chocolaty, Frankenberry was too pink, but Boo Berry was just right...plus it turned your milk blue. And get this: Wal Mart still sells the stuff all year round.

Gold Medal: Grape Nuts

When considering the breakfast cereal universe, you have the flake cereals (Frosted Flakes, Wheaties), the crunchy orb cereals (Captain Crunch, Cheerios), and then you have Grape Nuts.

Without milk or sugar, eating Grape Nuts is like chewing on gravel...mixed with little bits of tinfoil. But with milk and sugar, eating Grape Nuts is a compelling experience that vaults to the top of the breakfast cereal heap on peculiarity alone. The stuff has this bizarre expansion quality where it triples in size after you get it wet. It seems to be designed for killing pigeons. And judging by how filling the stuff is, it packs about four times the punch of a normal cereal per square centimeter.

The strangest quality of Grape Nuts is that once the leftover bits dry on your bowl, you pretty much need an ice pick to get them off. I'm guessing the only thing that will survive a nuclear holocaust will be cockroaches and little bits of Grape Nuts.

There are tons of other cereals with better flavors, and almost all of them have better box designs, but Grape Nuts stands alone because it knows exactly what it is, and makes no effort to bother with any of its competition. I'm not exactly sure what that is that it is, but I know that whatever it is, it is good, and it is worthy of the breakfast cereal gold medal.

Honorable Mentions: Wheat Chex, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Trix

Monday, September 22, 2008

Yellowstone for the Lazy Outdoorsman

(Below is a compressed version of the short film I debuted last week at the Epic Summer Film Festival. For a larger-and much more enjoyable-version of the film, click here.)



Few places on earth can claim the stunning beauty and inspiring geographic variety of Yellowstone National Park. Its natural wonder gives the serious outdoorsman a lengthy checklist of challenging high-adventure activities.

But thanks to the federal government, Yellowstone also has a lot to offer the Lazy Outdoorsman. With a few well-placed boardwalks and an expansive highway infrastructure, Yellowstone National Park can bring you a thrilling encounter with Mother Nature, with only a minimum of effort.

Food and Lodging

Hard core outdoorsmen buy expensive tents and equipment for boring ice caves in the sheer walls of thousand-foot glaciers. But hard-core outdoorsmen also get frostbite and die. The greater Yellowstone area offers an abundance of motels and lodges for your convenience. Better yet, why not enjoy the toasty comforts of a cozy cabin? There's no reason to pack complicated water filters when you can slam an icy cold Mountain Dew and play a stimulating game of Yahtzee after a hot shower.

Don’t bother trying to strain vitamins from those nasty vacuum-packed ration bags; instead, buy plenty of groceries and cook seven-course meals! No one can truly enjoy the outdoors on an empty stomach.

Transportation

There’s no reason to kill yourself on a bicycle or on foot when you’re in a national park that’s been paved with 15,000 miles of smooth asphalt! Better to see nature the All-American way, behind the wheel of a world-class Pimpmobile. Or see the park the way 50,000 accountants do on weekends—on shiny new motorcycles in their official Harley-Davidson riding leathers!

Sightseeing

Yellowstone National Park is the remnant of a huge dormant volcano that hasn't been active since way back in the 60's. All that hot crap under the surface creates tons of geologic activity. Without it, the park would just be another dumb forest, but with it, Yellowstone is a Mecca of Natural Wonders, and the greatest of these wonders are only a quick stroll from a convenient parking lot. Most of the time, boardwalks will bring you right up to the edge of excitement! Here are a few of the easily accessible attractions you will encounter.

Hot Pools

Every year lots of people die because they think these pools are hot tubs and jump in for a little late-night nookie. Then they find out that the water in these pools is like a billion degrees, and when they try to climb out their flesh slips off their bones while they suffer miserable deaths.

Hot Pots

Hot Pots are like the hot pools, except they're made of mud. They also stink to high heaven, so they're a great destination if you've got gas and don't want to embarrass yourself in front of your friends.

Geysers

Yellowstone is probably best known for geysers. Geysers are what happens when pressure builds up under the earth's crust, then shoots stuff in the air when it can’t stand it anymore, kind of like people in South Chicago.

The most famous geyser is Old Faithful, so named because it won’t cheat on its wife like the other geysers. Up to six billion people visit Old Faithful every year, so developers have constructed an elaborate network of eateries and souvenir shops around the geyser. If you’re lucky, you can even stay at the Old Faithful Inn, which was built with lots and lots of wood.

Wildlife

One of the greatest things about visiting the outdoors is seeing all kinds of wildlife in their natural habitat. Usually one has to travel far into backcountry trails and remote mountain valleys to see nature’s exotic creatures. But in Yellowstone, the animals come to you! They are friendly, tame, and always ready for a good photo op.

Low-Impact Activities

If you do want to get off the beaten path for a little while, Yellowstone also features a number of short day hikes which offer high reward at minimal cost. Spectacular waterfalls like Mystic and Fairy Falls offer stunning photos after only marginal hikes along low-impact trails. You don’t even need to bring a water bottle; just bring a nice walking stick and maybe some granola to hand-feed the Grizzly Bears.

Remember, though: just because it's easy to get to the waterfalls doesn't mean you can't hurt yourself by climbing around them. I'm just saying...

Shopping

After a brisk thirty-minute hike, there's no better way to unwind than to whip out the old credit card. Luckily, Yellowstone offers a vast variety of top-quality souvenir shops stocked with locally-made goods and mementos. You can also sample local culture at the community theater, pound a burger at a local eatery, or try some candy from the local mart. And while you’re walking from store to store, you always get a taste of that crisp, clean mountain air.

Beyond Yellowstone

Yellowstone is a beautiful place to visit, but it's getting really expensive. It costs twenty-five bucks just to get in and drive around, and you have to pay extra for miniature golf. Why waste your money padding some park budget when you can see practically the same stuff for free? Yellowstone is surrounded by miles of gorgeous forestland, untouched by human hand, and it's all super cheap and totally safe!

CONCLUSION

After spending a week touring the park, you’ll want to move up there and enjoy nature’s bounty all year long. But if you try to make your sanctuary your home, you just bring up all your everyday problems with you, and then all you’ve got is a pretty backdrop for depression. So just go home; you can always come back next summer. In the meantime, take a picture or two; it lasts longer, and you can always use PhotoShop to make yourself look more daring. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Attack of the Death Worms!



I’ve got plenty of reasons to be grateful I'm an American…pro football, democracy, Yahtzee…but this week, the number one reason I’m happy to live in the USA is that I don’t have to worry about the Mongolian Death Worm.

Now, no one has been able to prove that the Mongolian Death Worm exists, but I've been reading about it on the Internet, so I’m pretty sure it’s real. This thing is one bad mama-jama. It's like five feet long, blood red, and has fangs at the mouth end. That’s pretty bad by itself, but what’s worse is that the Mongolian Death Worm spits yellow poison at you, and the poison gives you electric shocks.

Let me repeat that for emphasis: the five-foot worm spits lightning. If we can prove that it poops thunder, Don King and Sylvester Stallone might be able to get it a heavyweight title shot.

On the evil worm scale, I’d rank the Death Worm somewhere between the sandworms in "Dune" and Dennis Rodman. And I’m super glad that I don’t have to deal with any of them, cause the last thing I need is to wake up in the middle of the night and face down some five-foot earth worm with fangs that wants to electrocute my behind.

Even if the Death Worm isn’t real, there are plenty of other nasty things around the world that are, and I’m amazed that we don’t get many of them in the States. Rattlesnakes and cockroaches are bad, but they don't compare to King Cobras and the Japanese Giant Hornet. And as horrible as our hurricanes are, our natural disasters haven’t caused near as much damage as they have in other places in the world.

So what I’m thinking about now is how we handle all the good cards we’ve been dealt. I don't know that it's enough to just say I'm grateful and then keep to myself. I’ve only been out of the country once so far, and that was to eat at the Hard Rock CafĂ© on the Canadian side of Niagra Falls. I had a nasty time dealing with Canadian currency, so I don’t think I’ll go back.

But does that mean that I should turn my back on my Canadian brothers? Should I just leave them to their hockey and their decaffinated Mountain Dew? That can’t be cool. No, I think that when you’re blessed with something you’re obligated to use it to help out the people around you. It doesn't always mean joining the Peace Corps; sometimes it’s just supporting the Jamaican Bobsled Team. It might mean sending the CIA to assasinate some South American dictator. I think the point is that we should be looking for ways to help each other out, wherever they live. At the same time, we have to do it with tact. Just because my neighbor has lawn problems doesn't always mean he wants me cutting his grass. Luckily, when it comes to big world issues, I don't have to make the decision to fire up the mower. But I think we should respect whoever does.

As long as there are people out there getting shocked by Mongolian Death Worms, we should be ready to provide a little insulation.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Of Coots and Codgers



Last month up in Yellowstone, I was heading out from my grandparents' cabin on a dirt road when I passed this old guy on a four-wheeler. As I drove past I slowed down and gave him that little wave that everyone gives when you see other drivers out in the country. But instead of wave back, this guy just glared at me and jerked his hand towards the ground, cause he wanted me to slow down.

As I drove by, I muttered something about this guy just being an old coot. But then I thought about it some more, and I thought that he probably wasn't an old coot. He was actually an old codger. As best as I can tell, the difference between a coot and a codger is that a coot is a crazy old man, and a codger is just a crusty old fart who won't die.


In the world of fiction, the best example of the old coot is Don Quixote, the title character in the book by Cervantes. Quixote is a senile old man who decides he's a knight and rides off on a donkey with a shaving bowl on his head to fight windmills. He’s crazy, but he’s also a loveable character who reminds people to keep cynicism from overwhelming childlike wonder and idealism.

On the flip side, the definitive old codger is Ebenezer Scrooge, the guy who sold his soul to the almighty dollar, wound up all lonely and paranoid, and then started hanging out with ghosts.

In real life, two of my biggest influences growing up were Ray Bradbury and George Lucas. I actually got to meet Bradbury at Comic-Con 2007 in San Diego, and I ran into George Lucas at a mall in Chicago last June. After meeting them both, I think they work as real-life examples of my coot/codger theory.

Meeting Ray Bradbury was like meeting my grandpa. In person, he comes across exactly like he does in his books. He speaks with a lot of enthusiasm, kind of like a little kid, even though he’s in his 80's. He's not crazy, but a guy that old who wears shorts is definitely in coot territory.

On the other hand, meeting George Lucas was a scary experience because I thought he might pull a tazer on me if I tried to talk to him. Lucas is a fiercely independent artist who fought his entire career to do things his own way, and in the process he wound up making himself a social island. He’s prime codger material.

If it were up to me, I'd rather be a coot than a codger; coots might be nutty, but at least they're happy. But I'm worried that I'm going to wind up a codger because of my driving habits. You can divide all drivers into two categories: oblivious drivers and aggressive drivers. Oblivious drivers park in the fast lane and only use their turn signals when they bump the handle while they’re reaching for their cell phones. Aggressive drivers tailgate them and have high blood pressure. I’m pretty sure all the oblivious drivers will wind up coots, and the aggressive drivers like me will turn into old codgers who pull guns on you when you try to take their car keys.

So if you think about it, that old codger in Yellowstone was the future me shaking his fist at the current me, and that kind of blows my mind. It's kind of like I'm an existential self-loathing hypocrite...but maybe I can be a lovable old idealist who isn't crazy and still knows enough to get out of the fast lane when someone comes up behind me, if that's not shooting for the geriatric moon.

Maybe the whole point is that we shouldn't let other people's actions determine our personal happiness...or maybe I should just drive slower on dirt roads.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Particle Man!



We are all going to die…maybe as soon as next week!

Next Thursday, a group of scientists in Europe are set to fire up a machine called the Large Hadron Collider. The “LHC” is a massive particle accelerator in Switzerland that bounces sub-atomic particles off each other at super-ridiculous speeds. Kind of like an intergalactic washing machine. The scientists built this thing to create something called a Higgs Boson Particle, which may or may not exist. But the LHC also has the potential to create black holes.

Those of you who watched the Disney movie from 1978 will remember that Black Holes are huge vacuums in outer space that are so powerful they suck in all nearby matter, even visible light, and then they spit it out on the other end of the universe where ET lives.

That’s what these guys want to create in Switzerland, only they don't have any floating R2-D2's to save the world if things go bad.

The LHC people are trying to assure us that everything’s cool; they even put together a really bad rap video to explain how it works. But we know better. If movies have taught us anything, it is that whenever you experiment with science, bad things happen.

Whether or not you’re a religious person, it isn’t hard to believe that the end of the world will come because we screwed something up here on Earth. We’ve proven to be fully capable of bringing about our own destruction, whether through nuclear holocaust, biological weapons or the mind-numbing degrade of reality television. It’s possible that in my extensive study of the scriptures, I missed some obscure passage in the Old Testament that says, “and it came to pass that the two guys in lab coats fired up the super collider machine, and the whole Earth was sucked into a spot one-millionth the size of the head of a pin. Amen.”

So, when you consider that the end of the world could come at any time, it makes you start to wonder how people function from day-to-day without wigging out all the time. I think the answer has to do with learning to separate your worries between the things you can influence and the things that are out of your hands.

If those guys are going to destroy the planet with their portable black hole, there’s really not a whole lot I can do about it. Unless my life was a Hollywood movie like “War Games”. Then I’d pack up my brand-new girlfriend and my zany best friend and fly to the Swiss border, where we would infiltrate several layers of military security with a leatherman tool and save the planet by making an impassioned speech to a scientist who conveniently speaks English. But that’s not the case.

No, I think it’s best to just push forward with life and follow the wisdom of legendary football coach John Madden, who used to say, “Don’t worry about the horse being blind, just load the wagon.” Life’s too short to spend it worrying about how it’s going to end; we may as well make the most of it.

But I might keep a leatherman on me, just in case.

An evening with The Reverend

With some musicians, you go to a concert expecting a virtuoso performance, something polished and perfect. Al Green couldn't pull that off if he wanted to. At least he couldn't on Wednesday; he was too busy fighting women off the stage all night. But that didn't take away from his concert at Red Butte Gardens. In fact, it made it a lot more fun. It also helped me understand why people say that Soul music died when he left for the ministry back in the late 70's.

As fun as the concert was, the people-watching was almost as entertaining. Concerts are usually a pretty great venue for getting a cultural cross-section of aging hippies, middle-aged nostalgic fans, oblivious kids, and all-out freaks, but this concert was dominated by a peculiar demographic. Kind of a, "let's roll out a blanket, pop open a bottle of wine and drink ourselves silly out of these plastic goblets" crowd. It was like Al was the evening headliner at a cheese and wine festival. I guess it makes sense that he'd draw a slightly different group than The Who.

In a lot of ways, seeing Al at Red Butte reminded me of seeing James Brown at the House of Blues in Vegas a few years ago. Both are/were legendary soul acts, with over-the-top MC introductions to start and end their concerts. Both front(ed) extensive bands with horn sections, percussionists, organ/keyboard players and backup singers in addition to your standard guitar/drums/bass. And of course, both knew how to light up a stage.

But while Brown's act was a disciplined stage drill (so disciplined, in fact, that Brown used to fine his musicians if they ever messed up a note), Al Green's show is a bit more loose. His musicians are still disciplined, but Al would have a tough job fining his guys; thanks to his over-enthusiastic fans, he only sang about half the lyrics to his songs.

When Al hit the stage around 8pm and started singing "Just Can't Stop", a handful of women jump up on stage and try to get a kiss. Usually they got it, along with a long-stemmed rose that Al would pull from a bouquet he'd carried out on stage. I figured it would tail off after the first song, but the women never stopped for the entire 90-minute concert. The whole show was a cat-and-mouse game for the security guards, trying to spot and apprehend them before they'd get up on stage and interrupt another song.

But Al was far from annoyed. In fact, he ate it up. I've never seen a guy have so much fun on stage. You almost believed he meant it when he kept throwing out compliments about Salt Lake City. He kept telling us about how he wanted to wander out into the audience, but "they" wouldn't let him. He wanted to play "Take Me to the River", even though "they" didn't want him to, but he wanted to have fun, so he did anyway. It was all probably for show, but it was a great show. And conveniently enough, the music was great too.

Al tore through a series of his classics, like "Let's Get Married", "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart" and "Tired of Being Alone". He finished the show with an extended jam of "Love and Happiness" and did a whole medley of tribute soul samples from his contemporaries (including "My Girl", "(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay", and "Bring it On Home"). But he also played a couple of the songs off his new album, and they were actually pretty good. "Lay it Down" sounds just like it was yanked off of one of his mid-70's albums. Kind of nice when that happens.

Of course, the highlight was "Let's Stay Together", the kind of flagship song that could fill a career even if the artist never recorded anything else. The only thing that would have been better would be hearing the whole song. Those ladies just couldn't help themselves. Neither could the guys, sometimes, though I think they were jumping up as more of a joke. I don't think Al really cared.

And that's another difference between Al and the late Godfather of Soul. Where JB eventually evolved into a larger-than-life Bad-A Funk Master, Al's stuff always had a more intimate feel. Still funky, but personal. Al seemed to draw energy from interacting with his audience, where James Brown was more focused on performing an act for his audience.

Of course, both shows were great, and I'm happy to check Al off my "to see" list.