Sunday, November 29, 2009

Max Hall Hates My People

Dear Max,

I'm not much of a college football guy. Didn't go to a lot of games when I was in school up at the U. I was always more of an NFL guy. College ball was nice and all, but I didn't really have much of a passion for it. Didn't have much of a passion for my school, to tell the truth.

Funny thing is, even wilting passions can get worked up when someone's feeling picked on. A persecution complex can be a powerful thing. Just ask Michael Jordan.

I know that you're familiar with the persecution complex, Max. After all, we're both Mormons. Our people got chased out of three different states long before you or I were born. It's pretty much ingrained in us. I feel it whenever I read the Salt Lake Tribune. I feel it whenever the Jazz play the Lakers. Heck, when I was a kid I felt it whenever the 19th Ward played the 53rd Ward in church ball.

There's nothing wrong with feeling persecuted, but how you deal with it says a lot about you. You can't let your complex get the best of you. When you stood up there in front of all those reporters and told everyone how the Ute organization was classless, well, you looked like a jackass. You won the game, Max. That should have been statement enough.

Don't get me wrong, I can understand why you might feel a little persecuted by the University of Utah and its fans. Honestly, I felt kind of bad for you when everyone made fun of all those interceptions you threw last year. And if it's true that some of us poured beer on your folks, that definitely wasn't cool. Nobody blames you for feeling vindicated.  Still, even as a U fan, I don't think all BYU fans are bad any more than I think all Ute fans are good, and I can tell you, you embarrassed a lot of good BYU fans.

I don't know, maybe it was the media's fault. Maybe that's what we get when we stick a microphone in someone's face seconds after the biggest game of their life and ask them to put it all in perspective. That's what was so funny about Jordan. The guy had years to put his career in perspective, and he still came off like a jerk. Maybe with a some time you'll pick up a little more grace. I know I wasn't a bastion of wisdom at your age.

Truth is, I should probably be thanking you. For a second there, you made me proud to be a Ute.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Daydreaming of the Magical Burger Tree

Earlier this week I swung out to the DQ to have lunch with my buddy Randy and his two kids, Max and Olivia (my auxiliary niece and nephew, since Randy has taught them to address me as "Uncle Josh.")

Typically Max's antics take center stage, such as the episode back in September when he spent roughly 95% of a day in Yellowstone National Park staring at the ground, fascinated by the park's curious geology and completely disinterested by the fifty-foot geyser twenty yards away.  But this time, four-year-old Olivia provided the memorable imagery.

My auxiliary niece (who made it quite clear that she prefers to be addressed as a "tough chick" as opposed to a "tough girl" while fastening her own car seat buckle) was about to dig into her DQ hamburger when she paused and stared fascinated at the bun.

"Hey...this hamburger has SEEDS on it..." she said in amazement.

I wasn't sure if this was going to be a good thing or a bad thing.

"...they must be for GROWING HAMBURGERS."

Good thing.  Definitely a good thing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Potentially Lame Half-Grateful/Half-Griping Official Thanksgiving-Related Post (with links!)

A few thoughts that rolled through my mind as a late meal from Taco Time rolled through my digestive system at 6AM...

-If my dad's side of the family is the Utah Jazz, then losing both my grandparents last year was kind of like Stockton and Malone retiring.  You knew it was going to happen, and you knew that things would never be the same afterwards.  But thanks to a few draft picks and free agent signings (IE, births to my cousins in Oregon, my sister getting married), the team will eventually claw its way back to contention, even if we miss the playoffs for a season or two in the meantime.

-More than ever, I want the real Utah Jazz to win an NBA title, if only because I never want to hear the folks on the radio have to debate whether our state's first major pro sports title is this week's Real Salt Lake MLS triumph or the Utah Stars' ABA title back in 1971.

-It's more important than ever that we find opportunities to laugh at ourselves.  Fortunately, we have the Internets.

-(WARNING: POTENTIALLY SEXIST COMMENT ALERT) I used to think that the most obvious sign of the Apocalypse was a middle-aged woman driving a white Mercedes SUV.  Now I am more inclined to think it is the blond 20-year-old trophy wife driving her only child around in a black Cadillac Escalade.  (And yes, this observation is at least partially based in petulant jealousy...of the wife, not the Escalade.)


-I made a big deal out of getting bumped from my singles ward at the end of last year.  I think the reason I made a big deal out of it was that deep down I knew how socially dependent I had become on the membership, which was not a good thing.  Now, a year later, I think I have officially passed the point where even if invited, I wouldn't go back.  Because that would kind of feel like going back to Prom.

-Leaving the aforementioned ward may have been a shock to the social system, but the aftermath has reinforced the value of my immediate family and longtime friends.  IE, the people I will still know and love ten years from now, as opposed to ten days from now.  Spending less time at ward activities has meant more time with them, and I'd venture to say it's been time well spent.

-I am very grateful to be back teaching again, in spite of the associated hassles.  Still, it might be time to start putting a few more restrictions on student paper topics.  This was never a problem for my first five years of teaching, until one intrepid student decided to write his division/classification paper on the Kama Sutra.  This semester, of 40 persuasive argument papers, a record seven papers have been written on some aspect of drug legalization, including four that specifically advocate the legalization of weed.


Here is an actual comment I made on one of the aforementioned papers:

"To put it simply, if you want to  overcome the stigma attached to pot, you should probably avoid basing half of your evidence on material from a source called 'Half-Baked: a Pot-u-Mentary.'"

-We're only four episodes in, but I am thankful for the return of "V" to prime time television, if only because it serves to remind me that I'm not the only guy out there who can be suckered into supporting a clandestine alien invasion through nothing more than a pretty face and a tailored jumpsuit.

-I'm very grateful for long winding back highways like the PCH in California and Highway's 32 and 34 in Idaho.  There's nothing like getting a little open road perspective at 70mph as the wind whips through your (imaginary) hair and you drive by some of the great back road icons of Blue Highway America.

-Getting laid off from KJZZ cost me some financial security and the chance to get on TV once a week, but in the time since, I've been able to write a book and develop a new career, neither of which would have happened had I still been surviving on four hours of sleep a day.

-Life will always have its frustrations, and I'll always have plenty of reasons to gripe.  But if you understand that life is about agency, and not about justice, the pill is a bit easier to swallow.  Besides, in the end, if you can still relate your existence to a Fine Young Cannibals song, you're probably doing OK.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Burger Wars

The local news has been buzzing in recent months as the long-awaited advances of In-N-Out Burger have begun making their way into the north countries, and yesterday the storied franchise opened its doors in Draper and Orem.   This hoo-ha comes as the pinnacle of a crusade-like invasion of similar burger joints, all based around the concept of a streamlined menu with customizable product.  Five Guys, Tonyburger...same type of deal.

I can't remember the first time I ate at In-N-Out, other than noticing that the fries tasted like actual potatoes.  That was kind of cool, though I'm not a big fan of the "super-skinny, quick to turn into a limp mush" fry concept.  The burgers are pretty good, though nothing I really feel like shouting about. 

I get the feeling the place gets a lot of mileage from long-term market branding.  I was probably in my 20's before I went there, but I'd seen my classmates wearing the T-Shirts since I first set foot in Tolman Elementary School (on the days they weren't wearing TC-surf shirts, that is).  In that sense, In-N-Out is the Cafe Rio of burger chains: decent food, but overrated when you factor in all the hype.  It still falls under Hires and Crown Burger on my local list, and if I'm going to drive 45 minutes to get a hamburger, I'll be driving the Maddox drive-in south of Brigham City.

Now that's a burger...

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Morning, campers.  Today I am making a special guest appearance elsewhere in the vast series of tubes known as the Internet.  My friend Holly, distinguished author of the award-winning blog "if i were really skinny..." asked me to write a guest piece as part of a series on Thanksgiving.  I obliged.

You should check it out, then read some of her posts.  They're quite good; plus Holly has a much more refined sense of style than I do.  If I ever decide to go shopping for clothes again, I will probably ask her advice.

Once you finish browsing her blog, make sure to click the "follow" button on her site so you can officially show your support of quality writer-people.  Then you should come back and click the "follow" button on my site, because chances are you haven't remembered to do that yet (it's just over here on the right).  It's easy, people; fifteen seconds will save you 15% on your car insurance.*


*Not true.  But it will bring good Karma.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Quantifying the Unquantifiable, or "Why I Still Hate Country Music"

The other night I was hanging out with my friend Travis discussing the Great Mysteries of Life.  We talked dating, sports, and debated the merits of The Blue Iguana vs. The Red Iguana.

Then the topic shifted to Country Music.  I don't know how it came up.  It might have been one of my periodic tourettes-like interjections, like, "Yeah, so one time I was at the Jazz game with this girl and--KENNY CHESNEY SUCKS!--eventually she stopped returning my phone calls."

At any rate, I quickly gathered that we were on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to modern Country.  We may both appreciate the sublime performance of BMW automobiles, but when it comes to the car stereo, Brad Paisley is about as welcome in my ears as a rhinestone-covered boot kick to the jimmy.  This may partially explain why Travis has more success with the ladies, though I had always hoped it was his keen fashion sense and laid-back demeanor that was doing the trick.  Because if I'm going to have to embrace country in order to find the woman of my dreams, I'm in for a long nightmare before the dawn.

I tried to explain my reasoning.  I cited a number of the ideas I wrote about some time ago, about false Americana and presumptive purity, the glorification of yokelism and all that.  I told him about how I love old-fashioned country from guys like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, and feel like the whole thing went in the can somewhere in the mid-80's, leaving us a rotten watered-down brand of classic rock sung with a twang.

But in spite of all my reasoning, I still couldn't come to a conclusive rationale, and I'm not sure there is one.  As a composition instructor my instincts tell me I have to justify my assertions with reasoned logic, but I wonder if there are certain things that just have to be chalked up under "taste aversions."  There are some things I like (hard shell tacos), and certain things I don't like (reality television), and that's that.  Country sucks.  It just sucks.

The closest thing I can come up with to a definitive reason for hating modern country music is the infamous "Twang," but beyond that, I can't quantify it.  What is the Twang?  I don't really know.  I can't explain it, but I sure know it when I hear it.  I can tell you this: if you took the twang out of the songs I hate, I would probably like them, and if you put it in the songs I love, I would probably hate them.  I think a lot of people are offended by my country-hate because they think I'm rejecting the sincerity or patriotism of the lyrics.  But I don't despise modern country for its lyrics, any more than I hate Mormon Pop for its lyrics.  I hate them both for their execution.

For me, it's like Macaroni and Cheese.  I don't like pasta, and I don't particularly like cheese.  Put them together, and you have a dish that I truly despise.  Can I tell you what it is that I don't like about them?  Kind of, but not really.  Do I feel like I'm missing out on a wonderful slice of life because I refuse to eat Macaroni and Cheese?  Nope.  Do I feel like I'm missing out on a wonderful slice of culture because I refuse to embrace modern country music?  Nope.

My aversion to country is similar to Jerry Seinfeld's aversion to the girl who ate her peas one at a time.  Jerry didn't really care that the girl ate her peas in a peculiar way, he just wasn't into her, and he used the rationale to justify an intangible instinct.  I can come up with all the evidence I want to justify my hatred of country music (and I do mean hatred), but the root truth is I'm just not into it.

Now, does this mean that I'll never go country dancing or show my face at a Rascal Flatts concert?  Not necessarily.  I'm not dumb enough to allow my pop culture convictions to get in the way of my eternal pursuits.  The Code is The Code.  If for some reason I'm destined to ride off into the sunset with a lasso-totin' rodeo mama from Malad, then I'll do what I have to do to keep the peace.  But there's a big difference between tolerance and assimilation.  If that turns out to be the case, I'll be like Tim Robbins in "Shawshank Redemption," confined by physical walls of oppression and persecution while the hope of the human spirit flies free on the inside.

Maybe Garth Brooks could write a song about that.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Death of the Franken-Chin

Got my sutures taken out last week. The Franken-Chin is no more. Now my roommate is going to have to come up with a new nickname for it.



Seems to be healing up nicely, though I guess that means my sympathy window with the ladies is up.  Now the only question is whether I can justify playing in the Turkey Bowl this year.  So where do you think one draws the line between "freak accident" and "God telling you to cut it out?"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stat Geek

For someone whose livelihood is based on words, I spend a lot of time stressing about numbers. Maybe it's born of a deep personal insecurity, but I've always been the kind of guy who kept track of his stats.  Sitting here right now I can tell you that I never shot over 50% on my free throws during a season of church ball. I can tell you that the most points I ever scored in a Junior Jazz game is 24, and that my max bench press is probably about 20 pounds less than it was six months ago.

I can also tell you that I've attended 10 LDS temples and dined at 9 Hard Rock Cafes (Call it the "Saint/Sinner Equilibrium"). The first wage I ever earned was 25 cents for every 12 bunches of radishes I picked at a local farm. For years I thought my best mile time was 5:45, until people started casting doubts on the measuring system my Centerville Junior High gym teachers were using in the early 1990's.

I used to keep stats on my dating, too. I know that my first one took place the evening of December 5th, 1992, an unmitigated disaster featuring Spaghetti Factory meatballs, a ceiling-mounted Christmas Tree and a legendary group photo at the State Capitol*. But that one was a girl's choice dance, so my first real date probably took place a week later when I got up the guts to ask a girl out on my own. For a long time I could blast out a complex stat sheet on my total dating career from memory, complete with notations for repeat outings, disqualifications via marriage, and whether I got action at the end of the evening (or just watched the girl sprint for her front door). The precision of those stats has floated into the historical ether, but I can still estimate with some accuracy that since December of 1992, I've taken 200-300 girls out on 300-400 dates. And if you figure I spent an average of $25 on each one--probably a lowball estimate--I've thrown about eight or nine grand at the ladies over the years.**

I think I first started keeping track of my dating stats for the same reason I tracked my Jr. Jazz stats in high school: I felt insecure about my performance, and was searching for some concrete evidence of improvement. Something to point at with pride. If I really wanted to, I could comb back through my journals and get my exact numbers--I haven't missed a daily journal entry since June of 1998--but I don't. Because the bigger those numbers get, and the older I get, the less impressive they become. Now, instead of looking at the totals and thinking, "what a pimp," I look at the totals and think, "what a schmuck." If the goal was to become a player--or a "serial dater," as I have been accused of being--then I have been successful. But that wasn't the goal. The goal was to get married, and thus those stats become a damning measure of futility. Dan Marino's 62,000 passing yards without a Super Bowl win instead of Bill Russell's 11 NBA titles.

My passion for stat-tracking has faded in the last couple of years, as dating has become a different animal. I still talk about it with friends, and obviously I'll even blog about it on occasion. Heck, I even wrote a book on the subject (Still waiting to hear back from the publisher on that one...).  But something feels very different now than it did five or ten years ago. It could be that I've finally matured a bit, or that I just don't care as much. Either way, the Great Mormon Singles Quest doesn't feel the same way it used to, so neither does the impulse to track it.

The first time I noticed this feeling in a tangible way was two February's ago. I was coming off a first date that was an all-timer, and a follow-up that was almost as good. I'd had good dates before, but this campaign truly showed promise and even reciprocation. Then, after wrapping up a broadcast of my morning show, only moments after grabbing some take-out stir fry and jumping in my car, I get a text announcing that my would-be girlfriend is now dating someone else.

I really can't understate this: I thought this one was going to work. The rejection was truly a surprise. There had been plenty of times I had gotten my hopes up, yet known that success was still a long shot.  This one hadn't felt like those.  And yet, I didn't react with anger or sorrow or really anything. I didn't call to plead my case, drive to her apartment to confront her, or immediately call another girl out of spite to convince myself that I was still The Man. Because I'd tried all that before, and none of it made all that much difference. I knew there wasn't much to do besides drive home and enjoy my Teriyaki Grill take-out. Obviously I was disappointed, but I wasn't despondent. If anything, I had become comfortably numb.

I have no idea what that means, but I'm pretty sure you can't put it in stats.


*I should also mention that the unmitigated disaster was mostly my fault.  As in, I probably never should have told my date that I was bored halfway through the proceedings.  Hey, I was a rookie, right?

**It occurs to me that when guys complain about dating, one of the knee-jerk gripes is always the financial investment involved.  I realize it sounds a little shallow and cliche, but there is a certain amplified angst that comes with the realization that not only are you getting your tail whipped regularly in the metaphorical cage fight of the dating game, but that you are paying your opponent to do so.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Defining Aerosmith

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  More importantly, it also marked the unofficial fall of Aerosmith.  According to the magic and all-knowing Internet, lead singer Steven Tyler has gone bye-bye.

I'm not sure if yesterday's big announcement will inspire similar celebration in coming weeks, but it does remind me of one of our generation's greatest quagmires: how does one define the music of Aerosmith?

(Insert obligatory one-word sarcastic retorts: "crap," "lousy," "lame.")

Seriously, I know that most people would just chalk up Aerosmith as another Classic Rock band that held on long past its prime--sort of an evolved version of The Stones, complete with gigondo-lipped frontman--but I don't think it's that simple.  Especially now that local radio apparently thinks U2 is a Classic Rock band, too.

Allow me to elaborate, via an understandably simplified Classic Rock pedigree:

1968-75: The true Classic Rock era, basically initiated with Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones transition from British Invasion Pop to Mick Taylor-driven blues rock.

1975-82: Blues-heavy Classic Rock is diluted into a pop-heavy transitional period, through bands like Electric Light Orchestra, REO Speedwagon, and Journey.  Still rocking, but something bad is on the horizon.

1982-91: The culture of the 1980's transforms Classic Rock into Butt Rock: cheesy pop hooks played at extreme volume by bands with even more extreme hair.  Enter Def Leppard, Poison, and Warrant.

1991-95: Kurt Cobain almost single-handedly drives a stake through the heart of Butt Rock with the Grunge Revolution, then, his mission accomplished, blows his head off with a shotgun.

1995-Present: Charlie Watts keeps playing drums for the Stones, even though at heart he's a Jazz guy.

So where does Aerosmith fit in there?  Well, their first "prime" was in the mid-70's, with songs like "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion," which definitely place them in the "Bridge to Butt-Rock" category.  Then in the 80's, they recorded "Love in an Elevator," which fits nicely along such brilliant Butt-Rock chart-toppers as "Unskinny Bop" and "Cherry Pie."

But they didn't stop there, oh no.  Somehow they survived the Grunge Purge, and in the mid 90's, they were still topping the pop charts with...well, I can't remember the names of the songs, but I do distinctly recall an album with a cow on the cover.  In fact, even as late as 1998, they were recording pop hits, like the one that played in the background of "Armageddon" over and over while Ben Affleck made out with Liv Tyler (Steven's daughter, strangely) and Bruce Willis saved the Earth from total annihilation by blowing up an asteroid with a really big drill (true).

Now, you could continue the Stones comparisons here, since Mick (Jagger, not Taylor) and the boys were still touring around and releasing albums.  But that doesn't work, because no one cared about the Stones new albums.  They were more interested in listening to the old songs and making jokes about how Keith Richards looked like Jack Sparrow's dad.

But no one was making "old man" jokes about Steven Tyler, and Aerosmith just kept trucking along...until yesterday, apparently, when guitarist Joe Perry threw Tyler under the bus for quitting on the band a long time ago.  (Or maybe it was Tyler who threw Aerosmith under the bus...I guess it depends on whose side of the story you listen to.)

At any rate, I still don't know how to put the work of Aerosmith into context.  I don't really feel comfortable placing them with other "genre transcendent" artists like Stevie Wonder, whose music truly defies categorization, because Aerosmith pretty much always sounded like a pseudo-Classic Rock/Butt Rock band.  I just don't get how they survived Grunge and managed to keep recording marketable singles for so long.  If that sounds like a back-handed compliment, I guess it is.

It took a while to appreciate the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Maybe twenty years from now, I'll be able to put the Aerosmith thing in perspective, too.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Life on Shuffle Play

Gotta love the "random play" feature on iTunes. Makes for some great juxtaposition, especially when your music library has everything from Ramones tracks to LDS CES firesides to sound bites from "Animal House."

For example, while I was getting a load of laundry ready, I heard this immediately followed by this.

That inspiring sequence led into "Let's Hear it for the Boy" off the "Footloose" soundtrack.

(Wait...did I just admit that I have Deniece Williams on my computer? So much for all that street cred.)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Chicks Dig Scars (Hopefully)

As of this week, my all-time stitch tally is twenty-four. Four from banging my chin at the Eccles Ice Arena in Logan, nine more from dislocating and lacerating my right index finger while playing volleyball, and eleven more Wednesday night.

And what was I doing Wednesday night? Playing football. Flag football, to be precise.

About ten minutes after scoring my first touchdown of the 2009 season, I went after an opposing receiver in the flat and wound up taking a football cleat to the chin. Did I make the tackle? Of course I did.

One visit to Lakeview Hospital later, I looked like this:

The pre-suture photos are more graphic (that's the technical term for stitches that my nurse Chelsea kept using), but I won't post them here. Trust me, you should be grateful.

(Photo credit goes to my new friend Kyle, who drove me to the hospital and managed to take a great shot that doesn't give me a double-chin. Just one huge Leno-chin.)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Family is Forever

I came across this picture yesterday and had to smile.  Some of you may recognize my sister on the left, either because you know her or have linked to her blog from my site.  The lumberjack next to her is her husband.

My brother-in-law.

I am very proud of him.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Return of the Saucer Lizards

I don't have a lot of regrets in life. Kind of wished I'd played JV Football my junior year at Viewmont. Probably should have worked that Grateful Dead concert the spring before Jerry Garcia died. And there were definitely a couple of girls I should have kissed when I had the chance.

But overall, I'd say most of my regrets aren't connected to any life-changing decisions. Might have had some more fun along the way, but I probably still would have wound up where I am now.

For example, years ago, around the second or third grade, I remember sitting up one Sunday night with my parents watching the first installment of a brand-new TV mini-series called "V." The 'V' stood for 'Visitors,' and the series was supposed to be about some kind of alien invasion. I watched for the first hour, right up until the moment we met the first alien...and saw that they looked completely human.

I felt shafted. An alien that looks like a human? What a gyp. So I turned tail and played with my Star Wars men for the rest of the night. At least George Lucas knew what an alien was supposed to look like.

The next day I learned I had made a terrible mistake. Every conversation with my friends went something like this:

Me: Hey there, childhood friend.


Me: Ugh...


If I'd given the show about fifteen more minutes of my time, I'd have found out that those lame human exteriors were only disguises for a breed of interplanetary space-lizards bent on destroying the human race. I guess I wasn't keen on anticipating plot twists back when I was eight years old.

The next week, I jumped back into the series, then ate up every minute of the follow-up mini-series a year later. They tried to turn it into a weekly TV show after that, though they had to keep recycling the same special effects shots over and over again like in "Battlestar Galactica." It wasn't as cool as "Star Wars," but they had sweet weapons, killer theme music, and the alien leader Diana was the hottest sci-fi chick since Leia donned the iron bikini (even if she was technically a lizard).

Eventually I moved on to GI Joe and Junior Jazz basketball, and "V" faded into the annals of 1980's pop culture. It always held a special place in my heart, even though I got the feeling anyone who wasn't around to see it when it aired wouldn't appreciate it now because of all the low-budget special effects. From time to time I would would hear rumors that they were going to re-boot the series, and my interest was kindled even more when I ran into Donovan himself (Marc "The Beastmaster" Singer) at Comic-Con 2007. He'd also heard the remake rumors, but at the time nothing was confirmed.

Well, now we know the rumors are true. Tuesday night, the lizard-folk are coming back to Earth. I don't know that much about the new series other than the inclusion of Elizabeth "Juliet" Mitchell in the cast, which is cool, and the absence of Singer and Michael Ironside, which is most uncool. But that won't stop me from checking it out.

I don't intend to add any more items to that regret list.