Monday, November 07, 2011

A Rare Endorsement

Like many people, most of the time I step into a voting booth I’m lucky if I recognize more than 25% of the names listed in front of me. Once I get beyond any high-profile races, I'm left to a series of hopefully educated guesses, crossing my fingers that I'm not voting in the apocalypse out of ignorance.

But this year is different. This year I know someone on the ballot. It's just too bad I can't actually vote for him.

Bountiful’s 2011 city council race has six candidates fighting for three spots, and one of them is my longtime friend Micah Day. I’m not usually the kind of person to go public with my political views, but usually I haven't played pickup basketball with the people listed on the ballot, either. Besides, since city council candidates don't have to declare a party affiliation, I can still claim political neutrality. 

I’ve known Micah Day for several years, and over the course of numerous lunch visits to Red Iguana, casual conversations, and the aforementioned basketball games, I’ve always noted how he carried a natural interest in civic issues. Long before he expressed any interest in running for office, Micah demonstrated an investment in what was going on around him at a local level. While I was more interested in talking about how the Jazz were going to stay in playoff contention (Micah was an event manager at the Delta Center for several years), he would often shift the discussion to some local issue he’d read in the paper or heard while attending a local city council meeting.

It would be easy to say Micah would be an excellent city councilman because of his management experience (nowadays he's managing events at the Conference Center downtown), his ethical candor, or the fact that he looks good in a tie, but its that sincere, natural civic interest that does it for me. That's why when he told me at lunch a few months back that he was thinking of running for office, my first reaction was, "yeah, that totally make sense."

Since I'm currently living in Farmington, Micah won't actually be on my ballot, but that doesn't change the fact that he has my support. Micah Day will make an excellent city councilman. He’s not running out of ego, or because he craves a small chunk of localized political power. He’s not running because he feels entitled to the position. He’s running because he genuinely cares about making Bountiful the best city it can be. Bountiful City residents would be wise to note that on Tuesday.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Birthday List, Item #7: Lose 20 Pounds

I never thought the day would come that would see me excited about losing weight. I never thought the day would come where I would ever need to lose weight. Thanks to a chance moment at Gold's Gym earlier this year, both of those days have arrived.

Last February, in the middle of another half-cocked workout that was light on lifting, lighter on cardio, and heavy on people-watching, I stepped on an electronic scale and stared long and hard at the reading. According to the little digital readout, I was heavier than I had ever weighed, and in spite of five years of workouts, it was clear that the weight I was putting on was not the good kind. I was five pounds shy of a sobering threshold I did not want to cross.

It was the culmination of a long work in progress. Around the time I turned 30, my previously reliable metabolism decided to shut down, and I gained 20 pounds in about the time it took to say "Del Taco Tuesdays." Since then, I'd often noted that while in generally good shape, I could probably lose fifteen pounds or so. Six months later I would note that I could probably stand to lose twenty pounds. I would often make such notations after finishing my second hamburger at Maddox, or in the middle of another sad showing at a pickup basketball game.

But after that moment last February, my good intentions finally became tangible action. As the winter transitioned into spring, I started going to the gym an extra time or two every week. And when I was there, I started lifting less and running more.* I tried to stop eating dinner so late, and when I did eat, I tried to cut back on my portions. I didn't make a single drastic move, like cutting out sugar or starting P90x. I just made minor adjustments to what I was already doing. And within a couple of months, I had lost over ten pounds.

At that point, I decided to make a goal out of my efforts. An even twenty sounded good, and by mid-summer, I was within about five pounds of my goal. I was wary of the month of July, since I would be spending time in Seattle and Chicago eating foods that wouldn't help my cause. But thanks to my hotel fitness centers, I returned from the Windy City within striking distance of the finish line.

A week or so into August, I walked downstairs from another cardio session, hopped on the scale, and smiled at a readout that was exactly 20 pounds less than my February high. Other people have lost far more, and accomplished far better, but it was good to know that I had set a goal and followed through. It's nice to think that in that stretch I lost the pound-for-pound equivalent of:

  • 6 bowling pins
  • My desktop computer
  • Two frozen Ted Williams heads
  • 160 copies of Lionel Ritchie's breakthrough eponymous solo album on CD
  • Two turntables and a microphone
  • $400 worth of beef jerky
  • My nine month old niece
Of course, since then I've faced a different kind of problem: none of my old clothes fit. But I think most would agree that running up a tab buying clothes because you finally got in shape is a pretty good problem to have.


*The people-watching remained heavy. I mean seriously, Wilford Brimley and Admiral Ackbar work out at my gym. The constant comedy is too omnipresent for a mere mortal like me to turn away.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mormon FAQ

Between the Book of Mormon Musical and the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, Mormons have been in the news a lot lately. I find this very interesting because, well, I’m a Mormon. With all this publicity, I thought it might be a good idea to post an introductory FAQ page on my church, just in case anyone I know who isn’t LDS is interested in hearing about the church from an actual Mormon. I emphasize the word “introductory” because there are a ton of different issues I could address, and frankly, I don’t want to take the time to write about all of them if only five people are going to read this post. If you read through this and do have additional questions, say, about the LDS view on the doctrine of Faith vs. Works, or why people in Utah can’t drive for crap, feel free to comment, and we can either hash it out there, or I can put together Mormon FAQ Volume II.

That being said, I want to stress that while I am a fully active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this blog doesn’t officially represent the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you want a more canonical set of answers to your questions, visit, or better yet, read the official Articles of Faith. This is merely my attempt to put a practical voice to some commonly asked questions.

1. Are Mormons Christians?

The short answer is yes. That’s why the church is called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The reason I think this comes into dispute is because we don’t subscribe to the concept of the Trinity, IE, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the same guy. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten of the Father, and the Savior and Redeemer of the World, but that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate and distinct beings (See the baptism of Christ for a Biblical example).

2. Are Mormons a cult?

When someone gets in trouble for calling some group a cult, they usually hide behind some clinical definition that refers to a group of people who are dedicated to a peculiar set of beliefs, or in our case, a group that doesn’t subscribe to their own definition of “historical Christianity.” But let’s be honest, that’s not why people call Mormons a cult. They’re doing it because when most people hear the word cult, they think of deception, human sacrifice, and Ozzy Ozbourne albums. In short, they’re trying to associate a group they dislike with something that will make that group as unappealing as possible. So in that sense, the answer is no: Mormons are not a cult. And frankly, Ozzy’s stuff was a lot better before he left Black Sabbath.

3. Why can’t I go inside the temple?

Because you’re not a Mormon. The key issue here is the difference between the words “sacred” and “secret.” The temple is a sacred place for Mormons, and even we have to be living a high level of devotion to go inside. But whenever you tell someone you can’t go someplace, or tell them what goes on inside, people assume the worst. Think of the “Unnecessary Censorship” bit Jimmy Kimmel used to do. We don’t talk about what goes on in the temple because what goes on is between you and God. But rest assured, no one is sacrificing virgins or juggling squirrels behind the recommend desk.

4. How come you guys have so many wives?

We don’t. Mormons discontinued the practice of polygamy back in the 1890’s, which means people who make jokes about it are hitting material that hasn’t been fresh in nearly 125 years. The people who practice polygamy today are spin-off sects that broke off around that time.

5. What’s with the magic underwear?

A married man wears a wedding band to remind him of the promise he’s made to his wife. Presumably, it helps to keep him out of harm’s way. Faithful Mormons wear the temple garment to remind them of the promise they’ve made with the Lord to be faithful to him. Therefore, presumably it helps to keep us out of harm’s way. It’s kind of His way of saying, “if you remember Me, I’ve got your back.”

6. Why do you all have to be Republicans?

We don’t, unless we want to get elected to public office in Utah. Mormons just tend to gravitate towards a more conservative ideology, because our moral compass tends to gravitate towards a more conservative ideology. But you can be a Democrat and be a Mormon.

7. How come you don’t like the Bible?

Mormons like the Bible just fine. But we also like the Book of Mormon. The central idea here is our understanding of the nature of scripture. The Bible wasn’t gift-wrapped and air mailed from Heaven with an autographed “See y’all in 2012!” dedication on the inside cover*. It’s a collection of inspired manuscripts that were assembled into a single volume around 325AD. Mormons believe the Word of God is the Word of God, whether it comes through the Gospel of Luke, a prophet who lived in the ancient Americas (IE, the Book of Mormon), or through modern day prophets like the ones that spoke to us in our semi-annual General Conference earlier this month. In short, if God has something to say, it’s not up to us to put limitations on when or where He says it.

8. So do you really believe that story about John Smith and the gold plates, then?

Yes, I do. If you described a jet airliner to a European serf in the Middle Ages, would it sound kind of implausible? You can make any story sound ridiculous if you twist it the right way. But if you take the time to understand the big picture, suddenly it doesn’t sound so crazy.

The thing you need to understand here is that God gets the Big Picture (He wouldn’t be God if He didn’t, right?). He knew that years after the time of Christ, there would be all sorts of different churches disputing the meaning of the same book (The Bible). Therefore, he directed his children in the Americas to write down the tenets of the Gospel as well, and they carved them onto golden plates, so they wouldn’t wear out over time. These plates were hidden in upstate New York, and that’s what JOSEPH Smith translated into the Book of Mormon. Now, there’s still all the stuff about angelic visitation, but let’s be honest: if you believe that kind of thing was possible in Biblical times, why wouldn’t it be possible in the 1800’s? And if you don’t believe that kind of thing was possible in Biblical times, then why are you asking?

9. Why do you guys keep insisting that you are the only true church?

This one always confuses me. If you think about it logically, shouldn’t everyone believe their church is the only true church? But that’s beside the point. The unstated assumption here is that if Mormons say we’re the only true church, then we must believe that all other churches suck and are only good for a one-way ticket to the Bowels of Hell, and that’s completely ridiculous and untrue. Mormons believe that our church is the modern restoration of the original church Christ established when he lived on Earth. But there are tons of good people doing tons of good things in other churches, and I’m not even referring exclusively to Christian churches, either. I also know a lot of non-religious people who are great people, too. What Mormons are offering is a transition from good to better, not from bad to good. Unless your church tells you drink poison Kool-aid and hop on spaceships. Then maybe your church really does suck.

10. Do you really think you’re all going to become gods?

Mormons believe they are going to become gods in the same way a five-year-old believes that he will grow up to be just like his dad. We believe that all mankind are spiritual children of our Father in Heaven. Thus, when we “grow up,” we will be like our dad, and do the kind of stuff He does. But He will always be our Dad, just like my dad will always be my dad.

* * *

Again, I don’t mean for this to be any kind of official declaration of Mormon beliefs. There are much more authoritative sources out there. Heck, I don’t even mean for this to be an endorsement of Mitt Romney, in spite of his impressive hair. I just know that people hear a lot of crazy things about my church, and I’d rather they get their answers from a real Mormon. Hopefully, if any of you had any questions, this helped. If not, make a comment or something.


*For the record, Mormons don’t believe the world is going to end in 2012. This was a joke.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Birthday List, Item #6: Sing in Public

When it comes to singing in public, my resume is short and checkered. It begins with an ill-fated tryout for my fifth grade musical, when I gave a horrid rendition of some long-forgotten tune about five feet from the accusing eyes of my grade school crush. Then there was the time I was all set to sing lead for my band Thunderlips when we were going to headline the ill-fated 32nd Ward Toga Party of 2001. A well-timed lightning bolt put an end to that effort. Later that fall, when I did manage to sing lead for the band (during a brief set we played out of our guitarist and bass player's garage), I barely had my voice back before I was dumped by my would-be girlfriend of the time.

The only thing that ever kept me thinking I might have the chops for a lead vocal (aside from my genetic connection to my sister, an accomplished opera-style vocal minor at Weber State University) was a brief but memorable performance at the Blue Chicago--my favorite Windy City blues club--almost fifteen years ago. Ever since I warbled my way through a single stanza of "Baby Meet Me with Your Black Drawers On," I had always wondered if I could really pull off a legit bluesy lead vocal for a whole song. Or any lead vocal, really.

Thanks to a dual show at the Layton Amphitheater last month, I finally got my answer. And that answer was: yeah, pretty much. Halfway through my blues band's set, I stepped down from my drum riser, passed off my sticks to our normal lead singer, put on my beloved leather fringe jacket, and sang a little Neil Diamond for the dedicated crowd. I didn't blow anyone away, or make my bandmates think I should take over permanently on lead vocals while we look for a new drummer, but I didn't embarass myself, and when I watched the video recording of the set later that night, I didn't recoil in horror and destroy the footage in desperation. I got the job done, plain and simple.

As fun as the actual performance was, the best part of the experience was talking to people after the show and noting how much it seemed to surprise them. Outside of the band itself, only one or two people knew the switch was coming, and so my take on "You Got to Me" was a complete surprise to nearly everyone. As a band, one of our main concerns going into the show was that we didn't offer a repetitive experience to what they'd seen in previous performances. Shaking things up with something as simple as me taking over lead vocals helped to accomplish that goal. And on a personal level, it was a lot of fun to see the reaction of friends and family to me doing something they wouldn't expect me to do. I think that idea--the idea of pushing yourself into challenging and unfamiliar situations--is at the heart of this whole list I've been ticking away at for the last few months.

Last summer I stepped out of my comfort zone and played the drums on a stage that was out of my league, but I felt good about it because I tried. It's a lot nicer to do the same thing and find out that it isn't out of your league after all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Top 10 reasons to be at the Layton Amphitheater this Friday

This Friday at 8PM, The Daniel Davis Band will be making its triumphant return to the Layton Amphitheater, where we made our public debut one year ago. In an astounding coincidence, our opening band will be Prospect Mali, who I've been playing with since last spring. If it isn't already obvious enough, here are the top ten reasons you should come see the show this weekend:

1. It's free.
2. We will be playing mostly new stuff, not the same songs you heard last year, though still many songs that you know and love and sing softly into the ears of your loved ones in the wee hours of the night.
3. The Layton Amphitheater is a great venue, and not in a, "the musician always has to complement the venue" kind of way. It has high-quality seating plus a big expanse of grass for if you want to do the "concert on a blanket" thing, a very nice sound system, and an upgraded LED light system.
4. It's free.
5. This year we're playing on Friday night instead of Thursday, which means you can't blow it off because of work or school, and you can use it for a date night, an activity for the whole family, or an incognito meeting for your underground survivalist group.
6. There is a definite possibility that Weird Al Yankovic will make an appearance.
7. Two words: It's free.
8. Our bass player has promised to wear pants for every song this year.
9. Two more words: Fog Machine.
10. Seriously, IT'S FREE.

Hope to see you Friday.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Birthday List, Item #5: Read the Constitution

When I was in the sixth grade, we celebrated the 200th Anniversary of the drafting of the US Constitution by memorizing the classic "We are the People" preamble. In the fall of 1994, I took American National Government at the University of Utah, and enjoyed the course so much I briefly* considered the option of being a Political Science major. Five years ago, on my first (and so far only) trip to Washington DC, I dropped by the National Archives to see the original manuscripts of the Constitution, as well as the Declaration of Independence.

On the way out, I bought a snow globe commemorating the day Elvis met Nixon.

Somehow, in all that time, I never actually sat down and read the Constitution. Not very patriotic of me. But this birthday list thing seemed like an ideal opportunity to remedy that problem, so one afternoon in late July, I googled "US Constitution" and wound up on the government-run "Charters of Freedom" website, where I read the Constitution transcript in full.

What I came away with was surprising. Surprising in that I was pretty familiar with most everything I read. No big shocks, no, "wait a minute, there's a LAW against that?" moments. I may not be the most studied student of US History, but I was already familiar with the setup of the three branches of government, so what I was most surprised by was how simple the Constitution is.

And maybe that's what is so great about it.

It also occurred to me that the Constitution is probably a lot like a groundbreaking movie (if you'll excuse the tacky pop culture allusion). For example, it's widely accepted that the first real movie car chase took place in the 1968 Steve McQueen film "Bullitt," as McQueen chases some bad guys through the streets of San Francisco in a green Mustang GT. It's a pretty cool scene, but 40 years of car chases in the time since have kind of upped the ante a bit, so anyone raised on, say, the car chases from the Bourne movies are going to look and "Bullitt" and go, "hey, that's lame." (They might also go, "hey, why does Steve McQueen keep driving past that same Volkswagen Bug over and over?", but that's off topic.)

What I'm trying to say is that I think the Constitution is one of those things that's easier to appreciate if you put it in the context of its time. Growing up as a lifetime beneficiary of the document's principles make it a lot harder to comprehend what life was like before it was around, or what life would be if I had grown up without it. Like so many of life's great blessings, it's easy to take it for granted.

*Briefly = About 30 seconds

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Birthday List, Item #4: Eat at the Sweet Home Chicago Pizzeria

One of the great things about heading out to Chicago last month was that I had multiple opportunities to enjoy the Windy City's signature deep dish pizza. The pizza out there is so good it ruins you for everything else.

There are a lot of places outside of the Midwest that try to sell you on the idea that they serve "Chicago-style" pizza, but in most cases, they aren't even close. The problem is most people assume the only difference between Chicago pizza and regular pizza is that the former is really thick. But there's more to it than that. Chicago deep-dish is deep because it's designed more like a pie than a flat slab of dough with toppings. The crust is also flakier, more of a pastry than a chewy dough, and it really isn't all that thick. In addition, you put the tomato sauce on the top of the pizza instead of in-between the crust and the cheese. In short, this is Chicago deep dish pizza, courtesy of a picture I took the night I dropped by the Giordano's at 7th North and Rush Street:

Now, while eating genuine Chicago deep-dish pizza was certainly a trip priority, it wasn't an official Birthday List item. But eating at the Sweet Home Chicago Pizzeria was. And why?

Because the Sweet Home Chicago Pizzeria is located in Draper, Utah.

I first heard about the Pizzeria several months ago, and in spite of my initial skepticism, retained a curiosity for the place based on its website photos, which seemed to depict real Chicago-style pizza. As I was putting my list together, it was obvious that the time for a visit had come. The prospect of finding genuine Chicago deep dish pizza so close to home was too tempting a possibility to ignore.

So late last week I teamed up with Brad, one of my old Chi-town mission buddies, to go put this place to the test. We were both kind of nervous to go, especially when on the way we decided to call ahead and see if they could start our order ahead of time. Authentic deep dish pizza takes about forty-five minutes to bake properly, and we didn't want to abuse the time restrictions of our lunch hour, but the girl on the phone told us that they didn't take call-in orders. She also told us that wouldn't be a problem, though, because since things weren't super busy they could probably get us our pizza in about thirty minutes.


On the plus side, the price of a small pizza was only $8.99, so we figured at least we wouldn't be out too much money if the pizza stunk. So Brad and I kept on driving south on I-15 and eventually pulled into a nice new-looking establishment at the east end of a commercial development in Draper.

A half-hour later, they gave us this:

(insert sigh of relief)

They got the crust right, and they got the sauce right. Some of the ingredients didn't leave me singing songs of culinary joy, but overall, the Sweet Home Chicago Pizzeria earned its name. Granted, looking out the windows and seeing the Wasatch Mountains instead of the classic architecture of Chicago's Loop was a little strange. The Pizzeria will never quite take the place of sitting in the basement of Pizza Due at a candle-lit table at 1AM, but it will fill the void better than any of the trendy joints in Salt Lake that specialize in cracker-thin pizza-type-objects sprinkled with pesto.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

To each his own, but as for me and my family, we will choose Chicago-style...every time.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Birthday List, Item #3: Play the Drums at Buddy Guy's*

Some of the best advice I have ever been given was to seek out frightening situations and take risks in life. So when I saw that a landmark Chicago blues club would be hosting an open jam night while I was in town last month, I knew I had to participate.

I already figured that at some point in the week I would drop by Buddy Guy's Legends to hear some great music take some great pictures. Founded by one of Chicago's most beloved bluesmen, the club was only a couple of blocks from where I was staying at the south end of the Loop, and I knew from previous experience that the place would deliver. But now the question became: could I?

According to the club's website, open jam night would feature volunteer musicians who were welcome to drop by and sign up to play for free. You just had to bring your own instrument and sign your life away at the door in exchange for a waived cover charge and a chance at public humiliation. At least that's what the bouncer told me when I signed my name on the list and took a seat near the left side of the stage.

The first half of the night was filled by The Jimmy Burns Band, who played a regular set with Eric "Guitar" Davis on lead axe. I took a bunch of pictures and enjoyed some great blues music, all the while wondering if I would take the stage myself by the end of the night. My nerves jumped a level when at the tail end of the opening set, Buddy Guy himself showed up to sing a few tunes. Somehow I kept my composure, thinking, "well, if I'm going to humiliate myself, I may as well humiliate myself in front of the best."

After Buddy's cameo, the night shifted to open jam mode. Only the jam wasn't quite as open as I'd expected. Instead of a bunch of random musicians improvising, the MC kept calling up people who seemed very familiar with each other, and very rehearsed. In fact, the songs they played sounded more polished than the songs my band had been playing after months of practice. I started to get the sense that I was out of my league.

But hey, I couldn't back out now, right?

As the evening drew on, and more seasoned musicians took their turns wowing the increasingly intoxicated audience, I began to wonder if anyone would even call my unknown name off the sign-up list, or whether I should even hang around to find out. Even Buddy had already left for the night. Maybe signing up and hanging around for four hours would be enough of a frightening experience by itself?

Wrong. I had to go the distance.

So I did what any rational, level-headed underqualified drummer would do: I approached the MC and talked my way onto the stage. At the moment of truth, I found myself sitting at a foreign drum kit, surrounded by unfamiliar musicians, staring into the bright lights and smoky haze of one of Chicago's most celebrated blues clubs. On a far wall, a row of guitars autographed by the likes of Jimmy Reed and Eric Clapton hung silently. I clutched the souvenir DW sticks I had bought earlier in the day at the local House of Blues and tried to smile, praying I would pick up on the beat quick enough to avoid total humiliation.

I got in unscathed for the first number--a solid 4/4 beat--and even managed to recover when one of the souvenir sticks slipped out of my hands and rolled around on top of the kit before I grabbed it again. When the song ended, I looked around nervously, but no one was glaring at me or waving me off stage, so I stuck around.

In retrospect, that probably would have been a good time to sign off.

Song #2 was more of a 2/4 beat, at least that's what I thought. From the looks I started to get from the other guys, I might have been wrong on that one. Still, no one ran me off at the end of the song, and the crowd was still cheering and dancing, so I figured I was OK.

The wheels came off on song #3. For the life of me, I had no idea what beat to lay down at the beginning of the song, so there was a good 10-second stretch at the beginning where I tried to tap my way in and generally made a mess of things. Finally the bass player looked at me and started mouthing the count, which I would have appreciated more if not for the condescending manner of his delivery, and I finally got off the ground. At the end of the song, the MC walked up and offered an awkward handshake. It was time to step down.

As I walked offstage, I passed through a gathering of musicians, none of whom so much as made eye contact with me. No one said anything, but they didn't need to. I lingered for a moment, awkwardly wanting some moment of closure with someone around me, even if it was only to apologize for not being up to the standard of the rest of the guys. But no one came up, and the band was already into its next song, so I just turned and walked out the door.

Two hours later, I was still sitting up wide awake in my room, trying to make sense of what I had just done. I took the risk, I faced the fear, so why did I feel so terrible? I wondered if I should ever pick up the drumsticks again, let alone show my face in Buddy Guy's club in the next two decades. I wondered what would have happened if Buddy was still there when I played...would he have pulled me off the stage by my ear, enraged that I had defiled the quality of his precious club? Or would he have offered the closure I sought as I stood offstage afterward, putting his arm around me like a knowing grandparent and telling me to keep at it?

Over the next few days, the shock wore off and I started to get a little perspective on what I had done. Clearly I wasn't ready for the big time, but there was no doubt in my mind that I had done the "right" thing by getting up on stage. Maybe I didn't bring the house down, but I definitely made a memory for the ages.

Besides, as time goes by, the stories of the failures are a lot more fun to tell than the stories of the triumphs. And eventually they all blend together anyway.


*This is a great example of the "living document" nature of The List. When I was brainstorming ideas for the original list, I knew I would be spending some time in Chicago this summer, so I thought "photograph a Chicago blues band" might be a logical option. But since technically I already had taken some pictures of a Chicago blues band (back in 2008), I wound up placing this option on my back-up list. However, about 36 hours after arriving in Chicago last month, it was time to make a change.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Birthday List, Item #2: Change a Diaper

I should probably make it clear that while a lot of the items on The List are meant to be fun, others are exclusively designed to challenge my comfort zones. That's why when I decided to put my list together, I knew from the beginning that it was time to face my fears.

It was finally time to change a diaper.

Up until my sister made me an uncle last January, my sum total experience with babies primarily came through watching movies like "Raising Arizona" and "Three Men and a Baby." Whenever my friends would have kids, I would always give them a buffer zone of a few weeks before I'd bother them, and when I eventually did, I might be called on to hold the kid long enough for them to take a picture, but that was about it.

I have loved being an uncle, though. Aside from providing an endless assortment of smiles and expressions for Facebook, my niece is a constant source of perspective whenever I find myself getting too annoyed at whatever is bothering me that day, like the stock market, the dating scene, or the Jazz season going down in inexplicable flames.

At the same time, that perspective told me that the time would come when I wouldn't have the luxury of being an arm's-length uncle. When it's not your kid, it's easy to pass the baby on when it starts crying or smelling like something dangerous and unnatural. But I knew that wouldn't last forever, so I volunteered to take one for the team.

Out of respect for my readers, and especially the niece who will be able to read this one day, I won't go into detail about the experience itself. Let's just say I was happy to have my sister there to coach and take over when the train derailed briefly. Luckily, my niece still seemed to like me after it was all over, and that was all I was really worried about. We're still tight, at least until she inevitably grows hair and leaves me behind for all the cool kids. And who knows, maybe she'll respect my wisdom and advice a little more now that I've established myself as the power holder in the relationship. I mean, once you've wiped someone's bum, you're the boss, right?


(insert chorus of parents laughing all across the interwebs)

I guess I should enjoy being an arm's-length uncle while I can.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Birthday List, Item #1: Visit Bruce Lee's Grave

I don't know what it is about celebrity death, or celebrity grave sites, that is so fascinating. Chuck Klosterman wrote a book about a mega-road trip he took to visit the death sites of various rock and roll heroes, and the title of Rolling Stone author Neil Strauss's book "Everybody Loves You When You're Dead" speaks for itself. Maybe it's because we typically see celebrities as otherworldly creatures, images on a TV screen or voices on the radio, and standing next to their gravestones reminds us that they were actual human beings. Maybe we're just weird.

When I was an LDS missionary in Chicago, I was excited to learn that Al Capone's grave was in a cemetery across the street from the chapel where we held our mission leadership meetings. There was probably no more iconic Chicago "celebrity" than Capone, so after every meeting, a few of us would head over to see the grave and take pictures. This led to the curious image of a half-dozen guys in dark suits standing somberly over the grave of a deceased mafioso.

Last summer, on my first visit to Seattle, I made a point to visit the Jimi Hendrix memorial. Whereas Capone's marker was little more than a flat nondescript chunk of cement, the Hendrix Memorial was the centerpiece of the entire cemetery. I guess you can take a lot of messages from that.

I had already arranged a return visit to Seattle before I compiled my Birthday List, so I thought I should try to come up with an item or two that I could take care of while I was in town. Having already visited the Hendrix memorial, it seemed logical that I should visit the grave site of another Seattle music icon, Kurt Cobain. Trouble is, Cobain doesn't have one. He was cremated. You can go see the house where he committed suicide back in the 90's, but that seemed a little too macabre to justify. Besides, I found a better option.

Bruce Lee has been a fascinating character to me ever since I saw his bio pic "Dragon" when I was a teenager. While I've never been a huge fan of martial arts films, I was very interested in how Lee was able to discipline himself into such a finely-tuned butt-whooping machine. Plus, unlike the images created by a lot of Hollywood behind-the-scenes tell-all's, he seemed like a genuinely good guy. From time to time I'll wonder what would happen if I just set aside all my favorite junk foods for six months and did some hard-core training. I certainly wouldn't be Lee, but his example does suggest a little of what the human body is truly capable of. It's a topic that becomes more and more relevant after you cross the line into your 30's.

Anyway, Lee is buried in north Seattle (his wife's hometown), and on a Sunday afternoon in early July I zipped up there with The Cheetahman (another example of what the human body is capable of, if you're referring to Guess boots and cheetah-print speedos) to check it out. He's actually buried next to his son, Brandon, who died in a film set accident two months before "Dragon" was released (Bruce died at 32, his son at 28).

The grave site was a little crowded that day, so I didn't linger for a lot of quiet contemplation. In a way, I almost felt under-qualified to be there, since I wasn't as familiar with his film resume the way I was familiar with, say, Jimi Hendrix's recording career. On the few occasions I have dropped by to see the grave of someone famous, I've noticed there's always a moment where you quickly transition from a kind of laid-back "hey, I'm going to go see so-and-so's grave!" to a somber realization that you are visiting the final resting place of a real human being. Two-dimensional celebrity becomes three-dimensional reality, and at that point you lose interest in the nature of the person's death and think more about what they were in life. So I just took a couple of pictures and tried to maintain some semblance of an air of respect. Maybe it's true that everybody loves you when you're dead, but unlike Capone, Bruce Lee seems like someone who deserved to be loved when he was still around.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

It's kind of like a bucket list...without the death thing.

A few years ago, just before my sister turned 25, she made a list of 25 things to do before her birthday. This list covered a whole range of items, from framing a picture to skydiving. I think the whole point, aside from finding a way to "seize the day" more often, was to turn her birthday from an, "I'm getting older and I can't stop it!" kind of thing, to a "If I'm going down, I'm going down in a blaze of glory!" type of thing.

At least that's what I got out of it.

So I've got a birthday coming up in a couple months, and to be honest, I'm not entirely thrilled about it. But instead of wallow in self-indulgent sorrow, I'm going to follow my sister's lead and turn the lemons of advancing age into the lemonade of a life well-lived.

A few thoughts on the nature of a good birthday list:

1. It should include items that fall into one of three categories: stuff I've never done before, stuff I haven't done in a long time, and stuff I should be doing more often. No point in listing crap I'm already doing.

2. Given the time frame, you can't include too many "large" items on the list (like skydiving). List items don't have to be huge and/or expensive to be meaningful, though there should be at least a couple of starred events to look forward to.

3. List items are not set in stone. You have to be careful not to use this as an excuse, but the reality is that sometimes life takes turns, and we all know about the best laid plans of mice and men. My sister had to change a few items on the fly, but it wasn't always because of a failed opportunity. Sometimes something better came along.

I actually put together my final list at the beginning of July (I've chosen not to post it here for a variety of reasons), and I already have a few items crossed off. My noble intention is to do a different post on each completed item between now and October's deadline.

Wish me luck.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Rest in Peace, Club 32

This weekend a substantial part of my past will cease to exist. As of May 1st, the Era of Student Wards will come to an end, and the last remnants of the University of Utah 32nd Ward will be scattered to the four winds.

At least, I think it will happened this weekend. It might have been last weekend. Truth is, I haven't attended the 32nd Ward in nearly two and a half years. Hard to believe it's been that long.

Even harder to believe it's been almost thirteen years since the first time I walked into a U32 meeting. Back then Clinton was President, Stockton and Malone were still running the pick-and-roll downtown, and I had hair (a lot of it, actually). There were three different buildings on the current University Institute property, which along with some schedule confusion, meant it took me three weeks before I finally found an actual U32 meeting.

Once I finally did, I attended with BretO and Mr. Mac's grandson (AKA, "The Other Josh") for about six months until Jared Parker was brought on as Bishop in the spring of 1999. And that was the beginning of the Glory Years of the U32.

Over the next ten years I was in and out of the ward several times, ducking out for a couple years when I went to grad school in Logan, or for stretches when I lived in areas covered by other wards. When I started at "Club 32," the ward boundaries covered all of Davis County, the Rose Park area, Capitol Hill, and even the Brigham Apartments downtown. But starting in '99, people started coming in so fast that the ward was eventually whittled down to a narrow sliver of the North Bountiful/South Centerville area. If that doesn't stand as a testament to the quality of the place, nothing does.

It's hard to narrow the list of memories when you've spent so much time in a ward like that (especially when you have to omit the dating-related ones for fear of litigation). But here are a few that stick out for me:

·      1999: A few ward friends and I gather in BretO's backyard to film a music video for the Stake Film Festival. Our electric cover of "If You Could Hie to Kolob" wins "Best Soundtrack" at the festival, but the YouTube response isn't quite as kind.
·      2001: In a profound abuse of power, I use my calling as U32 Elder's Quorum President to organize the Ward Toga Party, where I plan to debut my new band, The Atomic Thunderlips Traveling Ministry. A half-hour into the event, lightning strikes a nearby transformer, cutting power to the church for the evening.
·      2002: During a heartfelt testimony, I accuse my roommate Bob Morley of being one of the Three Nephites. Ever the humble disciple, Bob immediately approaches the pulpit and follows my rant with an emphatic denial.
·      2004: While still in grad school at USU, I swing down to Salt Lake one weekend and decide to drop by the U32's Fast and Testimony meeting. About three testimonies in, a girl gets up and rants for ten minutes about the hod-rodding jerk she was racing up 4th South on the way there, and how the intensely frustrating experience was a testimony to her of God's infinite love. Pretty funny considering she was describing my car.
·      2007: In a sleep-deprived stupor brought on by my new graveyard shift job at KJZZ, I expose my sister and roommate's just-blossoming courtship during yet another rambling, incoherent testimony. They wind up getting married, so everything's cool.
·      2008: In the deadly silence of an empty gym while U32 members contemplatively take the sacrament, Nathan Lyon gets a text message. No big deal, except that Nathan's text notification is an especially loud audio clip of our President proclaiming, "My name is George W. Bush, and I approve this message."

Actually, if there was one thing that embodied the best spirit of those U32 years, it was the annual St. George temple trip. Just after school let out, as people were moving home for the summer, about 70+ ward members would caravan down to St. George for an overnighter that featured hiking, picnicing, and a morning session at the St. George temple. Usually, a dozen or so people would go down a night early, and make the event last a little longer. Those were usually the people who would make up the heart of the ward for the coming summer. Of all the activities and all the memories I have of the ward, those trips were probably my favorite. I was always bummed that the tradition only lasted those first few years.

As it all draws to a close, I’ve been hearing a lot of lamentations, but I think the big shift is being a bit overblown. Maybe that's just easy to say two years after I've already walked away. At the same time, from my perspective, I can see that not a whole lot is really changing. People will still have singles wards to go to; they'll just find them locally instead of dragging up to campus every Sunday morning. In a way, the whole thing feels like an elaborate plan to help young single adults save on gas money. Nothing wrong with that.

I always laugh whenever I go to a summer testimony meeting in Island Park and listen to people bear their testimonies of their ward. There's a fine line between appreciating something and giving it undue reverence. Ultimately the U32 was great because of the people who were in it, and the spirit that united them. The place definitely had its warts—trust me, in ten years I saw lots of them—but overall it brought out the best in a lot of people.

That's why it isn't so sad the ward is being disbanded. Those same people are just going to do their thing somewhere else. Sometimes you just gotta move on.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Important New Dating Terminology

I've been dating for a long time. If my first date were a child, he would be dating. And he wouldn't be having a good time, because he was kind of a disaster.

In spite of my vast experience, I still learn new things about dating all the time. Like new words. Here are some new dating-related terms I've encountered in recent weeks:

Underdated (Adj.)

My friend Melanie coined this term at a group excursion to the Red Iguana 2 a couple months back. Derived from the word underrated, "underdated" refers to a man or woman who is comparatively inactive on the dating scene in spite of obvious qualifications, such as looks, personality, or the ability to read minds.

Here's how you would use the term underdated... describing a man:

"Darryl has a great sense of humor and owns his own home, yet he hasn't had a steady girlfriend since the beginning of the Obama Administration. He is totally underdated." describing a woman:

"Bernice graduated from law school with a 3.9 GPA and has a smile that lights up the room, yet she only goes on dates every month or two because she reminds people of Jodie Foster. She is underdated."

The second example offers a clue as to the reason for the underdated condition, but in most cases this reason is not readily obvious. It is a condition that is frequently unexplained, like being a libertarian.

Bro'd Out (Adj.)

This expression came up about a month ago while hanging with some of the guys (probably because we are all underdated). The expression "Bro'd Out" refers to a girl who has officially crossed over into "one of the guys" territory to such a degree that would make it impossible to view her in a dating context. After some discussion, we ultimately concluded that to become "Bro'd Out" is an involuntary, subconscious act that would be bad news to the subject in question. Indeed, it is especially tragic because it often results from an effort that was intended to have the opposite effect.

Here's how you would use "Bro'd Out" in a sentence:

"Wanda always greets me with a fist bump and calls me by my last name. She can also bench press me, and proves it uncomfortably often. She is officially Bro'd Out.''

Dating Coach (Noun)

Recently my former singles ward organized an activity that featured a "Dating Coach" When I asked about the event, I was told that the Dating Coach was something of a modern equivalent to an etiquette coach, who would teach boys and girls how to treat each other on dates and stuff.

Here is how you would use the term "Dating Coach" in a sentence:

"Last weekend my ward hosted a fireside with a Dating Coach, and I didn't learn anything."

While that's nice and all, I would be more excited to employ the services of someone a little truer to the title. To me, a real Dating Coach would actually go on your dates with you, watching from the sidelines, calling in plays, and screaming at me when I dropped passes. Someone who would be along for the ride and give me in-the-moment advice. Kind of like if Jerry Sloan and Will Smith's character from "Hitch" mated.

This is how my version of a "Dating Coach" would be used in a sentence:

"I went into my third date with Teela sitting on a comfortable 2-0 record, and though I was able to  maintain a lively conversation at dinner and build a comfortable lead, I misread her signal during the movie and blew a chance to hold her hand. Luckily my Dating Coach was there to chew me out before the start of the fourth quarter, and as I dropped Teela off I noticed my coach hiding in the bushes nearby, tapping his shoulder with three extended fingers (the signal for "doorstep kiss"). So I executed a perfect crossover dribble and drove hard to the hoop for a clear-path layup plus the foul, scoring a three-point play and preserving my undefeated season."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sweet Dreams, #457

This morning I had another one of those dreams where I'm serving a second mission. In this one, I'm out on a remote Iowa highway, desperately clinging to the hood of a speeding rust-covered pickup truck while some hillbilly tries to kill me...and I only have fifteen minutes before my next teaching appointment. Missions are awesome.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Twisted Vibrations

First they told me that the dinosaurs were really birds. Then they said Pluto wasn't a planet anymore.

Now they're telling me I'm a Virgo instead of a Scorpio.

In this case, "they" is some astronomer in Minnesota who says the Earth's alignment with the constellations isn't what we thought it was. And not only are we about a month off our "true" Zodiac sign, but we also seem to have left out a 13th sign, which you pretty much can't pronounce without dropping the F-bomb.

This wouldn't bother me except for the fact that I always thought I had the coolest of the Zodiac signs. Scorpio. The scorpion. I thought that was pretty cool. You know what my symbol is now?

The Virgin.

That is not cool.

So now I'm stuck trying to adapt to my new identity. I used to be driven by passion and power, but now I'm a sensitive soul who just wants to love and be loved in return. No more listening to AC/DC and Led Zeppelin before getting ready to bust heads on the basketball court; now it's all about quiet Barry Manilow tunes and free verse poetry about pine needles and crap. At least that's what Athena Starwoman says.

I really wonder what Whoopi Goldberg thinks about all this.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The 2010 Book List

I've often heard that if you want to be a better writer, you need to read. A lot. I've heard that statement often, but I've rarely followed it.

I don't know exactly why, but last year I read a lot more books than usual. Probably not as many as I should have, but enough that I haven't had the time or motivation to write reviews for them all. But even if I may not have enough time to review them, but I do have enough time to list them. I'll include a quick take on each, but you can pretty much assume that I recommend each.
  • High Fidelity, Nick Hornby. Fictional story about a 30-something music store owner who doesn't know what to do with the rest of his life (inspired the movie with John Cusack).
  • Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher. Memoir of Carrie "Princess Leia" Fisher.
  • Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs, Dave Barry. Dave's chronology of bad pop songs; perfect airplane read.
  • The Road, Cormac McCarthy. Post-apocalyptic fiction about a man and his son; don't read if you're depressed.
  • Fargo Rock City, Chuck Klosterman. Pop culture essayist Klosterman's memoir of growing up as a metal head in rural North Dakota.
  • The Dude Abides, Cathleen Falsani. Non-fiction analysis of the religious themes behind each of the films of Joel and Ethan Coen.
  • Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell. Non-fiction/sort-of self-help book on the true nature of success.
  • He is I Say, David Wild. Biography of Mr. Neil Diamond by a longtime writer for Rolling Stone magazine.
  • The Breaks of the Game, David Halberstam. Non-fiction portrait of the late 1970's NBA as seen through the 1977 Portland Trailblazers.
  • Sports from Hell, Rick Reilly. The longtime SI (and now ESPN) columnist researches outlandish sports from around the world.
  • Humor in School is Serious Business, B. Lee Hurren. Educational text about the value of using humor in the classroom.
  • U.S.S. Enterprise Owner's Workshop Manual, Ben Robinson and Marcus Riley. Technical manual outlining the various systems and functions of every version of the iconic Star Trek starship.
  • Bigfoot: I Not Dead, Graham Roumieu. Fictional autobiography written from the perspective of the legendary Sasquatch.
  • 127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Aron Ralston. Memoir of an avid outdoorsman who cuts his own arm off to survive a canyoneering accident. 
  • World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Max Brooks. Super-dense documentary-style fiction about the Zombie Apocalypse.
Now that I look back at that list I'm not all that impressed. In my head I read about twice as many books as I have listed here. I will try better in the coming year. In fact, if you have any recommendations, feel free to comment.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Official 2010 Post-Christmas Letter!

Dear friends, family members, and various law enforcement agencies who have requested that I provide viable alibis for specified dates in the month of June,

Now that the holidays are officially past us, it is time for that precious moment when I attempt to recap my year in a finely-crafted way that subtly balances humility and appreciation for the little things with blatant 21st Century self-promotion. Just for fun, I'm writing it in exciting multiple-choice exam form! Good luck!

1. In April I pulled a practical joke on my loyal readers by:
A. Pretending to quit the blog business
B. Going on a date
C. Changing my name to a symbol
D. Coming out as a die-hard country music fan

2. In August, I made a solo road pilgrimage to what important landmark from the film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind?"
A. Devil's Slide
B. Devil's Tower
C. Devil's Haircut
D. What's with all the Devil references?

3. In October, I finally got back in print, writing for which Salt Lake area newspaper?
A. The Salt Lake Tribune
B. The Deseret News
C. The Daily Planet
D. The Davis County Clipper

4. In February, I concluded a run that netted how many speeding tickets in six months?
A. 2
B. 3
C. 4
D. 5

5. In November, I interviewed what Country Music superstar from the 1990s?
A. Billy Ray Cyrus
B. Garth Brooks
C. Collin Raye
D. Vanilla Ice

6. In January, I saw what Utah Jazz backup point guard defeat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers with a last-second three point shot?
A. Sundiata Gaines
B. Delaney Rudd
C. Magic Johnson
D. Abe Vigoda

7. Last summer I visited the grave of what Seattle-area celebrity?
A. Kurt Cobain
B. Jimi Hendrix
C. Xavier McDaniel
D. Abe Vigoda

8. In April I switched my morning wake-up station from Oldies 94.1 to Arrow 103.5 because:
A. 94.1 never played my favorite songs anymore
B. The female co-host only wanted to give reality TV updates
C. The female co-host had a stone-cold-serious visit with her personal psychic on-air
D. All of the above

9. This month I will become _____________ for the first time?
A. an uncle
B. debt-free
C. a homeowner
D. humble

10. The best piece of evidence from 2010 that suggests I am movin' on up in the world is:
A. I finally embraced sophisticated adult food like sushi.
B. I finally bought a smart phone in December.
C. I finally upgraded my Jazz season tickets in December and "got out of the ghetto," as one of my students put it.
D. All of the above

In spite of its ups and downs and multiple speeding tickets, I'd have to say I'm pretty grateful for 2010, and looking forward to 2011. As a final send-off, here's a clip I came across on one of those nerd blogs I love so much.

Here's hoping that 2011 gives you plenty of chances to laugh...