Wednesday, May 30, 2007


For those of you with access to KJZZ channel 14, you might want to set your TiVo's Saturday night. Or just watch. According to my inside source, a sketch by Steve Anderson and I is set to debut on Saturday night's 10pm episode of "B All Over", a new Utah-themed talk show produced by the guys that did "Singles Ward" and "Church Ball".

A couple of months ago, the producers asked Steve to be a correspondent on the show, which is basically supposed to be a fusion of "The Tonight Show" and "Saturday Night Live", with a focus on Utah themes. Steve got word to me, and the two of us spent a couple of weeks shooting some short film clips about a mountain man who has been forced to adapt himself to modern a high school guidance counselor, naturally.

Anyway, word from Steve is that at least one of the clips is going to debut this weekend. The show usually comes on at 10pm, and runs for an hour. Steve plays the Mountain Man, and I play the bald guy.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

What would it take to get Salt Laker's to riot?

Tuesday night at a quarter to Midnight I was walking along 400 West in Salt Lake with my old roommate Brandon when we passed this guy in a bright Hawaiian shirt bopping by in the other direction. He had a big smile on his face as he shimmied from side to side while rapping the lyrics to Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”.

“I said a hip-hop, a hippie to the hippie to the hip hip hop-a you don’t stop…”

One might suppose he was drunk. Or stoned. Or just a weirdo. Especially since he didn’t have any headphones on. But Brandon and I knew better. Besides, this guy was a lot more normal-looking than the guy that decided to go stand in the middle of the road and get his freak on in front of a full-size truck that was blaring its horn at him. I’m not sure that guy was drunk, either.

See, Tuesday night the Jazz finished off the Golden State Warriors and advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1998. So people were in a celebrating mood. Horns were honking, people were yelling, spontaneous chants were popping up all over. It was the kind of unifying behavior that makes academic types nervous.

For the 100th time in the last six months, I was reminded of how tightly our community psyche is tied to the Jazz. For better or worse, this little sports franchise is our ambassador to the public stage, and it has been nice to see them representing lately.

Ever since the Spring 1988 Fathers and Sons outing at Camp Zarahemla, when I crammed into the back of a Chevy Van with fifteen guys around a little 12-inch TV set to watch the Jazz beat the Lakers in the 87-88 playoffs, a bit of my self-esteem has been roped to the franchise with the oddest name in the NBA.

In spite of my admiration for Michael Jordan, I was bleeding purple that night at the Salt Palace two years later when my dad and I watched the Jazz overcome an 8-point deficit in 40 seconds to beat the Bulls when Stockton hit a desperate lay-up over His Airness himself.

When I served my mission in South Chicago, and the Bulls played the Jazz in the 1997 Finals, I rediscovered a pride in the land of my nativity, in spite of the love of Chi-town I’d been developing for 18 months.

This year, I finally became a season ticket holder (albeit a partial one—I share with a couple of guys at work), and became a face in the crowd on a more regular basis. Over the season I grew to love the moment towards the end of the game when the crowd would sense the win, rise to our feet, and declare victory as the last minute ticked away.

Tuesday night’s game was the first one that left my ears ringing for hours afterward.

Oddly, the Jazz played a lousy game. They missed six free throws in a row and threw the ball to the Warriors so often it began to look intentional. But in spite of that, they coldly dispatched the league’s new darlings, along with their bearded (and unsuspended) leader Baron Davis, with extreme prejudice. Four games to one. At least Golden State can still watch the highlights of Baron’s Game 3 dunk.

As a bonus, I got a Jazz hand towel when I arrived at the arena, so now I’ve got a towel for my bathroom. (I still need to buy a garbage can, though).

By making the Western Conference Finals, the Jazz officially surpassed my early-season prediction for this year’s success. I still figure it will be another year or two before we’re really looking at a possible title, but the way things are going, I wouldn’t put money against it.

It also adds support to the idea that the yearly parade of awards should at least wait until the playoffs are over. Not only did the league MVP get ousted in the first round, but the chap that beat Jerry Sloan for coach of the year also failed to get to round two (Though I’m sure Jerry would rather be in the conference finals).

In the years after the Jazz made their two finals runs, I always figured I’d keep watching until Stockton and Malone retired, then I’d probably turn away from the league in disgust, finally unable to tolerate the selfishness and posturing that had already turned many of my friends over to the college game.

But thanks to guys like Paul Millsap and Deron Williams, I’m still here. And though I don’t know if I’m going to be stopping traffic anytime soon, I’m not planning on going anywhere.

As Brandon and I made our way to the car, I mulled over a question that had popped up from time to time. If the Jazz ever won a title, would Salt Lake City riot? The night the Bulls clinched against us back in '97, Elder Clark and I saw troops in full riot gear manning the corners of South Chicago. It seemed silly to think that button-down Salt Lake could ever mirror the same scene.

But as I looked at how wired everyone was after getting to the conference finals, I began to reconsider. I doubt we'd ever go as far as to start breaking out store windows and setting fires all over town, and the term "riot" wouldn't be the best word to describe it, but if the Jazz do win a title, I think we can expect to see some crazy things. I'd like to see it happen.

Go Jazz.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?

Last weekend my roommates and I threw a Toga Party. It was a solid affair, with a good turn-out, lots of food, lots of music, a virgin margarita bar, and about a 45% toga to no-toga guest rate.

In a way, it gave closure to an endeavor I started six years ago.

Back in spring of ’01, in those innocent pre-9/11 days when I served as Elder’s Quorum President of the University 32nd Ward, I got this idea about throwing a ward Toga Party. Three years of staid social get-togethers had me bored, and I wanted to show my peers how to really have a good time.

Within reasonable limits, of course. In spite of the decidedly negative image of the Toga Party and the obvious clash that it would create with a ward activity, I opted to assure everyone that the Ward Toga Party would be high on zaniness, and low on immoral content. I even went into the Relief Society and demonstrated how to wear a toga while remaining morally clean.

Before long, the event became a bit of a vanity project for me. Getting my peers to show up for a ward activity in bed sheets was not enough, nor was convincing them to tie a bungee cord around their waists and pull a Toyota pickup across the church parking lot as part of our “Feats of Strength” test. No, I chose to use the Toga Party for the debut of my newest garage band, The Atomic Thunderlips Traveling Ministry.

After practicing off and on for several months, Thunderlips had put together a decent repertoire of covers and original songs, from the Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away” to a Gorditas tribute fused with a Pachelbel piece we called “The Taco Bell Canon.” I was even going to make my lead vocal debut on “Gimme Some Lovin’”.

Late in June, the trucks started showing up at the church on 1st South and 7th East and began unloading gas grills and band equipment. Soon decorative balloons and banners started making their way onto random walls, and everywhere we looked, people wore bed sheets. It was a beautiful summer day, making its way into a beautiful summer night.

Then a microburst drifted over the valley, and a single bolt of lightning knocked out the power to the church.

Outside, business went on as usual. The Truck Pull was a huge success, the relay games were going strong, and the nerf javelin competition was living up to billing. Inside, I stared at a powerless stereo that was supposed to be playing my special Toga mix and wondered whether God had struck me down in a figurative sense.

On a quiet stage, Thunderlips’ instruments rested unplayed. Even the cage we’d built for our go-go dancing gorilla out of PVC pipe from Loews was vacant. Eventually a group gathered in the darkened gym to hear Bob Morley sing his Jimmy Buffet parody “Wastin’ Away At the 32nd Ward”, accompanied by an acoustic guitar and a half-hearted tambourine from yours truly.

Maybe I really wasn’t ready to debut as a lead singer. Maybe God was sparing me from embarrassing myself. Maybe Thunderlips wasn’t as good in reality as we thought we were in rehearsal. I’ve mulled over a number of possibilities over the years, wondering just what the eternal significance of my failure meant. Could this really be God shaking his fist in vengeance?

Then I realized something. I realized that in the years since, I’ve gotten a lot more mileage out of this story as a failure than I ever would have had it been a success. The success would probably have been forgotten quickly. The failure gave me writing material.

Last weekend was fun, but I doubt I’ll be talking about our virgin margarita bar six years from now.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Stern's Paradox

Huh…can’t wait to see how all this turns out. NBA commissioner David Stern might have to look up the definition of “paradox”, if he hasn’t already.

For all the non-basketball fans out there, the last week of the NBA playoffs has seen a whole string of blatant cheap shots, and to date, no one has drawn a suspension, despite the fact that each one would likely get an automatic suspension if the foul had taken place during the regular season.

Here’s a quick rundown…

*In Game 2 of the Suns/Spurs matchup, San Antonio forward Bruce Bowen kicks at Sun Amare Stoudamire’s legs as he’s coming down from a dunk. No suspension.

*In Game 3 of the same series, Bowen knees two-time MVP Steve Nash in the groin while Nash is playing tight defense. Nash goes down hard. Again, no suspension for Bowen.

*In Game 4 of the Utah/Golden State series, Utah center Mehmet Okur goes for a late game drive and gets clotheslined by Jason Richardson. Okur lands on his back, and Richardson gets a Flagrant 2 foul and an ejection, but no suspension for Game 5.

*Earlier in that same game, Derek Fisher turns to go upcourt after defending a Baron Davis miss, when Davis suddenly stops and throws an elbow to Fisher’s temple, knocking him to the floor and drawing a 20-second timeout. No foul is called, but the NBA charges Davis retroactively with a Flagrant 2, which has no bearing whatsoever on a game that’s already over.

*In Game 4 of the Suns/Spurs series, Robert Horry takes over for Bruce Bowen and levels Steve Nash with a forearm shiver that sends Nash headfirst into the scorers table. No news on Horry’s fate yet, but ironically all the attention is going to Stoudamire and Boris Diaw, who left the bench to rush to Nash’s aid, and thus technically made themselves eligible for one-game suspensions themselves.

So far, every one of these fouls has been attributed to the rough play expected in the NBA playoffs. I guess that’s why the offender in each case opted to walk away from his victim as if nothing had happened. To their credit, no victim aside from Stoudamire has gone out of their way to lay blame, though Nash had to sheepishly admit during post-game interviews that, “well, it was a body check”.

We know, Steve. You shouldn’t be embarrassed to admit it.

Richardson and the rest of the Warriors chalk up his takedown of Okur to the fact that he shouldn’t have driven the lane late in a game that was already over. I’m sure they would have justified Andrei Kirilenko if he had thrown Baron Davis to the ground when he went up for his highlight-reel dunk at the end of Golden State’s 20-point Game 3 victory.

Or maybe not.

Like I said, the players involved—at least the ones that have been on the receiving end of these fouls—have adamantly declared that they don’t want to see their opponents suspended, that they’d rather win the series against a full opposing roster. I’m glad they feel that way. If I was in their shoes, I’d feel the same way.

What bugs me is not that Robert Horry doesn’t help Steve Nash up when he takes him out, or that Baron Davis just chucked all the goodwill he’d built up in the last month by taking down a guy who’s daughter is recovering from cancer surgery. What bugs me is that the league is only concerned about their bottom line. And it’s going to catch up with them.

That’s why they won’t suspend Davis. The league doesn’t want to lose revenue by suspending high-profile players during the playoffs. It’s the same reason the referee’s give superstars the benefit of the doubt on foul calls, while hard-working rookies like Paul Milsap get nailed for breathing too close: the league wants its superstars on the court, even though logically speaking, the superstars are the ones that are least in need of favorable officiating.

But here’s my point: you can bend over backwards to keep the big names on the court, and chalk up every cheap shot to hard playoff basketball, but what happens if Nash gets knocked unconscious on that hit from Horry? Will David Stern be OK with losing the league MVP to “tough playoff basketball”? Will the league be so lenient if Andrei Kirilenko hip checks Davis into the third row tonight?

I seriously doubt it.

Bad calls go both ways, often in the same games. No doubt about it. But as long as the league keeps pretending that it’s OK to maintain their double-standards, the clock will continue to tick. And I feel for the poor shmoe that’s in the crosshairs when the bomb goes off.

Of course, maybe we’ll get through the rest of the playoffs without any serious incidents, and I’m sure the apologists will give us a chorus of “I told you so’s”. But my point has already been made. The league already has its image problem. I’m just one of the few that’s stayed loyal in spite of it.

But my clock is ticking, too.

Monday, May 14, 2007

What if someone made a "Spiderman" movie and everybody came?

Spiderman 3
2 ½ stars out of 4

Three films into the series, I have to make it official: I think the action sequences are the weakest part of the “Spiderman” franchises.

Well, maybe not the action sequences themselves…the action is great, though the CGI Spidey does look pretty cartoonish most of the time. No, what I mean is that by the time Spiderman has his final showdown with (insert villain here), the best of the film is past.

In the first “Spiderman”, I absolutely loved the story of how Peter Parker became Spiderman. Less than an everyman, Parker was the perfect embodiment of the nerdy underdog that so many of us can easily relate to. But once Spiderman squared off against The Green Goblin, the film had turned into any number of generic action flicks, with the usual good-guy-defeats-the-bad-guy climax.

“Spiderman 2” did a better job of blending the action with the storyline, as well as making the third act grudge match a bit more dependent on the overall story. But still, what I remember about the first sequel was the story about Parker learning to balance his life a lot more than his head-to-head with the guide from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

For me, then, the best part of “Spiderman 3” is the sequence halfway through the film when the black oil (on loan from the X-files, I imagine), turns Peter Parker from hero-nerd to hot-head James Brown strutting whack job. Again, the action sequences are great, but when the credits roll they take a backseat to what makes these Spiderman movies work: their personality.

I guess that’s why I have to say I enjoyed the third installment of the trilogy, in spite of the fact that, as many are saying, Sam Raimi tried to cram too much in. “Spiderman 3” feels a lot like one of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books I read back in the 80’s, only instead of choosing one thread, Raimi put every last one of them in the movie.

This time around, Spiderman faces three bad guys: The Sandman (dude made of sand), Venom (regular dude turned into evil dude by black oil), and Green Goblin Jr. (Willem Dafoe’s avenging kid dude). And if three bad guys wasn’t enough to deal with, Parker also has two love interests to deal with: original girl-next-door Mary Jane (redhead) and newcomer Gwen Stacey (redhead-turned-blonde).

Two major pluses for the movie: Daily Bugle Editor-in-Chief Jonah Jameson is still around (one of my roommates claims I remind him of Jameson for some reason), and this time Harry Osborn has more to do than make random bitter interjections about Spiderman killing his dad.

One other negative: For a superhero with a secret identity, Spiderman sure does pull his mask off in public a lot.

Altogether, that’s why I give the movie two and a half stars: the plot may be overloaded, but the Spiderman personality remains intact. And as long as that is the case, I’ll keep coming back.

“Spiderman 3” is rated PG-13 for random action violence, some kissing, at least one moment where you’ll say, “isn’t the blond chick Ron Howard’s daughter?”, and the distinct chance that one of your friends will ask why Spiderman doesn’t shoot his web out of a more naturally correct location.