Thursday, July 29, 2010

Those hazing days of summer

Tradition. The common thread that binds humanity through the generations. Through repeated customs, we make sense of what often seems like a cold, apathetic, uncaring universe. We seek solace in the practice’s ability to bind society and, once the tradition is satisfied, we look forward to fulfilling the next rung in our eternal ladder of destiny, uniting us with those who trod before us.

Traditions suck.

I know it’s not traditional to say that. Traditionally, you’re supposed to love tradition. It’s supposed to make you/whatever you’re a part of into the person/thing you/it are/is today. And who are you to change that? No one, that’s who! If a tradition wasn’t so special, would it be a tradition? Traditionally not.

Tradition is essentially a flowery term for groupthink, defined as something that spans time and generations, and ultimately gains meaning simply by virtue of being a tradition. In that sense, it’s not your pregame regimen dating back to junior high, or the mustard sardines you eat before every exam. Those are individual rituals and superstitions, but not traditions. Traditions are institutional acts that are special to you because they were special to someone else. Inherited sentimental value, if you will. The kinds of things that you would not do or hold any feelings for without somehow knowing that you’re supposed to do so.

For example, there’s nothing intrinsic about a wedding in a church, with the bride wearing a flowing white dress and the groom wearing a black or gray suit or tuxedo, while a clergyman asks you to repeat traditional vows before exchanging gold bands. The human brain isn’t hard-wired to throw back a homer hit by the visiting team at Wrigley Field. Your mind naturally pops up with thoughts about why we’re here, but Jesus Christ is an acquired taste. When a pitcher is throwing a perfect game, no one acknowledges it. Why? Because you’re not supposed to. Neither abstaining from meat on Fridays nor singing the national anthem actually affects anything, but people do it anyway. Because people do it.

I keep coming back to religious and sports-related examples because these two institutions reflect the ultimate roots of tradition — respectively, discipline/control and a desire to prove yourself. These can be positive traits, but nevertheless are conducive to all manner of rigid, irrational conformity. Many religions practice such as a means to an end, but in sports, it’s often an end unto itself.

Everything that’s absolutely worthless about tradition rendered its ugly head Monday at a Dallas Cowboys training camp. Rookie Dez Bryant allegedly refused to carry Roy Williams’ shoulder pads after practice, after which the media portrayed Bryant as a self-centered jerk. Why? Because apparently it’s a rite of passage for Cowboys rookies to carry veterans’ pads during training camp. And also to foot the bill for expensive team dinners. That’s often the case among sports teams, fraternities and similar organizations.

The idea, as a huge number of apologists will tell you, is that such hazing initiates newbies into a history-rich organization so that they can appreciate the gravitas and carry it on for future members. Oh, and to ensure that everyone knows their place in the hierarchy. It’s tradition!

Personally, I'm tired of this macho, authoritarian, ego-orgasmic mind-set. In reality, hazing serves no purpose apart from providing entertainment for the aggressors at the expense of those picked on. It doesn’t make you a better athlete or forge a friendship. But refusing to cooperate, no matter how rational, can ruin someone’s reputation, thus reinforcing the idiotic concept that it’s these rites of passage that foster team/club unity. So it’s lose-lose for anyone who isn’t blindly following. You’ll be accused of not being a team player even if you claim you weren’t aware of the tradition, like Dez claims was his case. Unspoken rules, as it turns out, are also traditional.

Sadly, such an attitude is increasingly a matter of routine off the field too. When did it become American to absolutely dump on everyone underneath you? I’m not sure, but I suspect it’s a byproduct of buying into the trickle-down version of the American Dream: This is your time to be humiliated. And once you’re humiliated, your earn respect. And once you’ve earned respect, you get the privilege of humiliating the next round of rookies.

I think that's a cause of a lot of societal bitterness these days. With the economy being what it is, a lot of people are either stuck in entry-level hell or find themselves back there after getting a "Go back to start" pink slip in the game of life. No matter how hard they work for how long, they’re still a rookie carrying shoulder pads and paying for the CEO’s fancy dinners.

Many people are willing to put up with this because of the idea that if they work just a little bit harder, one day they’ll be the one reaping the benefits. And when that time comes, they won’t want to be saddled with high taxes or societal obligations. It’s a sort of poignant greed, a self-defeating fantasy, one that only contributes to the increasing gap between rich and poor.

Personally, I don’t go for all that. The hazing. The peer pressure. The groveling. The idea that I’m supposed to revere all of this because it’s tradition. I think work and professionalism should always pay off, regardless of pointless rites of passage. And that everyone who does their best day in and day out should get their due, rather than their turn. Maybe then we’d have more respect for each other instead of feeling so threatened. And, in turn, feel like part of something.

Maybe it could even start a new, better kind of tradition.

Ian McGibboney is not a pro football player and never joined a fraternity.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Drilling into the core of my bedrock

For the past year or so, prompted largely by the New Orleans Saints’ awesome championship run, I’ve been feeling pretty nostalgic for Louisiana. I’ve been away for more than three years now, but I manage to get down there at least twice a year. My most recent trip, last February, was fed by the exhilaration trifecta of the Saints winning the Super Bowl, my first Mardi Gras in four years and my mom pulling through potentially life-threatening surgery. Quite a week that was.

The years have largely dulled some of the sore points I had with the area that largely left me to leave it in the first place back in 2007. Many of the best friends I’ve ever had still call it home, and the hospitality and culture remain unlike much else I’ve ever encountered. And a nice visit can stash all the frustrating memories in a vault and throw away the combination.

But sometimes, something dredges it all back up.

The human memory is a remarkable weapon. Even your most dusty flashbacks can come blazing back to life with little more than a glance. Two years ago, I stumbled upon a girl on Facebook who was in my second-grade class. She sat right behind me. My main interaction with her was rejecting her advances and icky girl-germ-laden love notes. That whole year, she had a crush on me, something that no girl would repeat for six more years. After second grade, I would never see her again. Decades later, I stumbled upon her picture online. She was beautiful. “Her cheekbones still look the same,” I thought to myself. “Wait, how do I even remember what her cheekbones look like?” Not bad recognition over a face I hadn’t thought about since the summer of 1988.

I didn’t ask to friend her on Facebook, but she wouldn’t be out of place among my eclectic crew. As of this writing, I have 546 Facebook friends. Out of those, maybe 300 have ties to south Louisiana, generally from our high school or college days. They’re all long used to my constant status updates, which tend to veer between harmless humor and divisive political commentary (though, these days, it’s mostly the former). One of my Springfield friends recently joked to me (in person, not online) that I could write “straws are round” as my status and it would get several likes and even more comments. Fittingly enough, I made that my next status. And it did.

One Facebook status I posted Wednesday served all of the above roles, but in a gut-wrenching way. And it wasn’t because of what it said or even the fact that it turned into a heated political debate. It was because it reminded me of some of the most frustrating facets of the place in which I hatched.

On that day, my home city of Lafayette held a “Rally for Economic Survival.” Thousands of people converged in the Cajundome unified under a single message: “Lift the Moratorium!” This was in response to President Obama’s brake-screeching on offshore oil drilling in the wake of the massive BP oil spill.

Lafayette and the surrounding communities (known collectively as Acadiana), though miles from the Louisiana coast, are huge oil and gas hubs. It’s the No. 1 industry in town, and has been for decades. Everybody either has or knows someone who has done a stint offshore or in a shop. One part of town is known literally as the Oil Center, where the Petroleum Club hosts social events (our high school football banquets were held there). Fittingly, Dick Cheney visited several times as vice president.

Consequently, it’s pretty much impossible to debate oil and gas issues with someone from the Acadiana region. You might as well argue that puppies should be shot between the eyes. It becomes a very emotional, personal argument and you come across as a villain, not even for criticizing the oil business, but for suggesting that anything about it needs to evolve at all.

I should have thought about that before saying anything.

Basically, I thought the rally was a bad idea on its face. I understood that tens of thousands of locals are worried sick about losing their oilfield jobs, and that the prevailing sentiment is that a moratorium would only worsen already-precarious job conditions down there. There’s also the question of whether curbing offshore drilling is the correct solution to a disaster essentially caused by penny-pinching on the acoustic switches. These are legit issues that are worth addressing with an open mind.

But I also know this: 1) Louisiana isn’t the most environmental state, and there isn’t a type of cancer the state won’t risk to do business; 2) Louisianians have voted consistently against their own economic and social interests for decades; 3) The majority of residents wouldn’t piss on President Obama if he had personally plunged into the oil spill himself, plugged the leak and caught fire on the way up. Though they would piss on him over health care.

And the rally, sponsored by oil interests, seemed more like political grandstanding than anything else. Fair or not, it was easy for me to detect a bit of tea-party mania and right-to-work groveling at play here. And that it could actually backfire from its intended purpose as an appeal to the president and Congress if an ulterior agenda seemed too obvious.

Which brings me to the status. I typed, “*Lafayette facepalm*” — in retrospect, probably not the most civilized thing to do. But it wasn’t until a non-Louisiana friend asked me about it that others made the link between my status and the big event of the day.

“There's an anti-drilling-moratorium rally today, the ‘Rally for Economic Survival.’ I'm not surprised. They still defend cockfighting there. And cancer is a cost of doing bidness,” I responded to my friend’s query. Again, not the best way to explain what I was feeling, but not untrue. Chicken-sparring is very popular, and they don’t call the corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans “Cancer Alley” for nothing.

Almost immediately, several friends piped up and said we’re gonna lose jobs, money, business, etc. Also, that I was pompous, heartless, would understand if I had family in the business, now is not the time for improvement, etc. On another forum, someone suggested that it was easy for me to object to the rally with a full stomach.

Two things really bothered me about this debate, both of which opened old wounds: 1) The people criticizing me are good people I have known personally for years, and spanned pretty much the whole political spectrum; and 2) the assumption that, in criticizing the motivations behind a singular event, I was attacking an entire industry from a completely detached, ivory-tower perspective.

When I lived in Lafayette, I discovered I was tremendously capable of saying and doing things that could anger/upset literally every person I knew. And even as I stood by some of those statements, I still felt terrible for how they made people feel. I often felt ganged up upon, and I brought it all on myself by taking a stand. It’s a conflict I’m still dealing with today, though not typically on such an emotionally draining level.

And I realize now that a major part of this is how other people view me. For whatever reason, friends think that I’m immune from job insecurity and that I can’t know what it’s like to have a stake in the oil industry. That’s crap, of course, because I’ll never forget when my dad was laid off from his brief contractor job when I was 11. He spent more time in school learning the trade than he did actually working in it. And I lived in Lafayette for 26 1/2 years, which was plenty of time to see the economy come and go with the tide of oil. Also, I was unemployed for an entire year there near the end. As far as emotional arguments go, I can roll with the most passionate.

I love Louisiana. It will always be where I’m from. I wear state-emblazoned shirts all the time. My car has a Saints helmet decal and a UL Lafayette frame around the license plate. I have not ruled out returning. My birthplace has made me who I am, and I’m grateful to be that person.

That doesn’t mean I can’t call out a pro-oil rally once in a while. Or that I shouldn’t make note of Lafayette’s self-inflicted lack of economic diversity, which devalues a college education and compels brain drain. And how concern for jobs and business sometimes overrides personal and environmental safety. Or that having an intellectual conversation over these topics, the first thing we need, tends to be the last thing we have.

Much like my old friend’s cheekbones, these frustrations come back to life like they never left in conversations such as these. They remind me of why I needed to leave, but also why I’ll always want to come back. Because of there’s one thing I share with my hometown brethren, it’s a desire to make things better.

And there’s no debating that.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Not so much writer's block as writer's diarrhea

I've been writing my latest blog entry for three days now, and it looks like it'll take at least a fourth. It'll probably be too long for anyone to read, but the intro will probably piss off some people, so I'll have to make sure it's worth getting to the end when we all hug. Glad I don't have any space or decorum rules here.

In the meantime, here's a short fable:

I wear soft extended-wear contact lenses. On impulse, I took them off before going to bed last night. Glad I did, too, because one of them was torn. The lesson: when you have a contact lens that's torn, take it off.

May your day not be stormy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Garrett Morris makes a great point...are you listening?


I don't smoke pot and never have, but I think it should be legalized. Garrett Morris makes a very strong case for legalization, encapsulating pretty much everything I've ever said and more. The video quality itself is grainy and the subtitles could use spellcheck, but that's neither here nor there. Once again, the Saturday Night Live alum and New Orleans native doesn't disappoint.

Anyone familiar with SNL lore knows that Morris had probably the most high-profile freakouts while freebasing cocaine, etc. backstage in the 1970s. These days, he uses medical marijuana to treat issues like the bullet wound he nurses in his back from a 1994 robbery that nearly left him paralyzed. And he remains active in TV, movies and commercials alike, as well as on the comedy circuit. 

But his personal regimen, for the most part, isn't how Morris makes his case. I've said in the past that many pro-legalization arguments are weak because they come down to, "I smoke weed and the cops should leave me alone." Which is fine, but it's preaching to the choir. Morris blames "Reefer Madness," racial connotations in the 1920s and current misinformation for pot's enduring illegality. He cites the legality of alcohol and cigarettes as proof that public peril is not the main driving force behind drug policy. He asserts that, if marijuana was legal, many prescription drugs would simply cease to exist, and that if regulated, pot would be even safer than it is. Oh, and there's the whole tax-revenue windfall.

In saying these things, Garrett might have unintentionally hit on precisely why pot is still illegal and probably will be for some time. Namely, the pharmaceutical lobby. But still, I think there's only so many years that such irrationality will stand up to intellectual scrutiny. Clearer heads will prevail in the end.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Nothing but the truth

Yesterday, I was going through an online message board on an opinion piece that had been published in a newspaper. Actually, I read several. The threads all pretty much came to this exchange at some point:

"You need to listen to something besides Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck once in a while."

"Oh, like Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow or all the mainstream networks?"

What both sides are alleging, obviously, is that the other follows marching orders from their respective representative pundits. Moderates and libertarians fed up with both sides often conflate liberals and conservatives as two sides of the same demagogic coin, and on the surface that makes sense. But as the above exchange repeated itself for the umpteenth time yesterday, something occurred to me — it's not the same at all. Not by a long shot.

"But Ian," you say, "Everybody knows you're a hardcore liberal. Of COURSE you're going to defend your ilk at the expense of conservatives! That's what your type is ordered to do at all the meetings where you get your talking points each morning."

And that's exactly where you would be wrong. When you compare what liberals and conservatives rehash, there's definitely a difference. They're the same only in the sense that both sides repeat things ad nauseam. Can that be annoying? Yes. But for the most part, they're not equivalent. And the comparison does not favor the right.

Liberals will say things like:

"George W. Bush received a briefing memo on Aug. 6, 2001, titled, 'Bin Laden determined to strike U.S.' He was on vacation at the time, and ignored the warning."

"Dick Cheney held meetings as vice president to determine energy policy, and refused to release the minutes or disclose who was invited to attend those meetings."

"The Bush administration invaded Iraq on false pretenses, despite no evidence of a connection to 9/11, diverting valuable military resources from Afghanistan in the process."

"Barack Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay swiftly as president, but still hasn't done so."

By and large, most mainstream liberal refrains run along these lines. Whatever your stance on the issues, it's hard to argue with time or place. Bush really did receive that memo. The only debate should be, would it have mattered at that point? Cheney did hold secret meetings. Was that for the public good? Maybe or maybe not, but everyone agrees that he did. The point being, statements such as these are springboards for wider discussion and debate. And while there's plenty of fringe liberal kookiness to go around, it is exactly that, kookiness.

Now let's see what conservatives are saying:

"Bill Clinton was offered Osama bin Laden on a silver platter, and he refused."

"Saddam Hussein was a vicious tyrant who used weapons of mass destruction on his own people."

"Barack Obama is a dangerous socialist who uses a teleprompter and was voted into office by idiots who are coming to regret their decision."

"Sarah Palin is a viable presidential candidate and is a refreshing alternative to the elites in power now."

"We need to free up our soldiers to finish the job on the battlefield."

"Health care reform is nothing but a massive Marxist redistribution of wealth."

"The tea party is simply a grass-roots group of people fed up with big government."

"We need to take our country back."

While all of these statements have their individual flaws, they share a common thread: they assume facts not in evidence. Clinton was not president during 9/11. Saddam was not involved in 9/11, which was the stated reason for the Iraq invasion. Though cherry-picking polls on specific issues might sometimes suggest it, there is no mass exodus of Obama supporters. The timing of the tea party and its demographics suggest an ulterior motive that its practitioners doth protest too much. And so on. Believing any of these things requires an adherence to a reality that doesn't actually exist. As the saying so aptly goes, "You're entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts."

And that's where the pundits come in.

Liberals and conservatives absorb pundits in different ways. It's probably no accident that liberals dominate the Internet and Comedy Central, while conservatives have the lock on talk radio and cable news. The Internet is expansive and requires mental exertion on part of the user, both to find content and to filter out the wheat from the BS. That is the consequence of such a democratic medium. Comedy Central is an obvious one, because programs like The Daily Show and the Colbert Report are subversive in ways that button-down Republicans cannot be, even though neither show shies away from attacking Democrats as well.

By contrast, talk radio and cable news shows are passive outlets. They have a self-reflexive authority by virtue of being on the air, and they tell people what they want to hear. Their hosts tend to be alpha-male authoritarian types, though with enough blue-collar nods to come off as the little guy looking out for you. It's no surprise, then, that Rush, Beck and Hannity thrive in this environment, and that they push what would otherwise be fringe positions. Hey, they're just entertainers, right?

Of course, there are exceptions on both sides - Michelle Malkin and Matt Drudge are huge online, for example, and Olbermann and Maddow thrive on MSNBC. But these exceptions prove the rule, because they prove my point: right-wing bloggers and aggregators have fervent niche followings and MSNBC usually nets soft ratings compared to Fox News. And again, Jon Stewart's and Colbert's successes are a function of their equal-opportunity jabs rather than any partisan agenda.

So, yes, liberals and conservatives alike have their chosen sources of red meat. The difference is that conservatives employ them more, because their notion of truth is more flexible. For example, you might see a moderate Republican agree with a liberal Democrat that Bush made bad moves as president. But no liberal will agree that Obama is a racist radical. That's precisely why supposedly liberal talking points are nothing of the sort: truth is truth. But when Glenn Beck screams that we need to take our country back and newspapers are subsequently flooded with letters giving shout-outs to the 9/12 Project, well, that's pretty traceable. 

If it's obvious whose version of the facts you're using, than it's safe to say you're a victim of talking points. And today's frothing right wing does that better than anybody. As Colbert once said, "The truth has a liberal bias." And with his support from both liberals and conservatives who think he's serious, he might be the most trusted man in America right now. Which pretty much proves my entire point.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

@#$%^&!!

Last Friday night, while at my metaphorical day job, I found myself distracted by a cacophony of noise. My newsroom, like most, has several television sets mounted on the walls that tend to be any combination of noisy, flashy and liable to fall at any moment. And when it’s not that, it’s the ubiquitous police scanner. Usually, I’m able to tune them out with the mental skills and discipline I learned from years of dating.

But on this particular night, the TV blared what I consider to be one of the most annoying sounds known to humankind. One that wasn’t even loud enough in theory for me to hear, yet one that my ears draw to because they hate me.

Mumblemumble [BEEP] mumblemumble [BEEP] mumblemumble [BEEP] mumblemumble [BEEP] mumblemumble [BEEP]...etc.

Fed up, I trotted over to the TV to turn it off. And as I figured, the constant bleeping I heard was the work of a very busy NBC censor punctuating a live Eminem performance. I wondered if it was tape-delayed by a few seconds (common these days) or if it was live and the censor just pressed the button repeatedly and figured that would do the trick, but by then I’d already given the TV a rest.

Eminem annoys me. It’s not that I think he lacks talent, but that he squanders that talent on trying to be outrageous. Same goes for acts like Marilyn Manson and, to a lesser extent, Lady Gaga. Or Insane Clown Posse, if you remove the talent factor. Seeing each of these artists for the first time piqued my interest, if strictly in the rubbernecking sense.

I’m also not impressed by the trend on reality TV and shows like South Park to bleep every other word. I guess I should be happy that these shows are taking on the overly censorious nature of FCC-regulated airwaves, but mostly I find it makes these shows unwatchable. Especially as the years go by and the soundtrack remains the same.

Shock is like fire; it isn’t going to burn the same thing repeatedly. When a shock-rocker does the same shtick in 2010 that he did in 1996, I’m going to start questioning his, and his fans’, intelligence. Likewise, eventually Lady Gaga’s going to have to wear Mom jeans. Probably on her hair.

The whole point of shock, it seems to me, is to do something so tremendously unexpected that pop culture and even society will never be the same again.

To go on an inappropriate tangent here: Bush apologists often frame the 9/11 attacks as something that never happened again because of the president’s resolve and our aggressive actions overseas. They’ll say Bush kept us safe in the subsequent seven years because another attack like that did not happen on U.S. soil. But such a sentiment completely misses the point of terrorism. Terrorism is about shock. The attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon accomplished exactly what they were meant to do, which was to frighten the bejeezus out of Americans and break us from the comforting illusion that we are safe from the consequences of our political actions abroad. The attack worked perfectly in the short term by force of its immediacy, and its effects have lingered because we’re still flinching over the prospect of a next one. But if they kept attacking our shores, we’d be on to them and the jig would be up. As it is, the U.S. has taken some pretty extreme measures in a pre-emptive attack on civil liberties, as if that will get the bad guys to stop hating our freedoms. The terrorists know all this, which is why they don’t need another 9/11. As far as shock goes, mission accomplished.

But I digress.

I like a shock to the societal dynamic as much as any maladjusted person (in terms of pop culture, not terrorism, which I hope is obvious). But I don’t think most artists these days are creative enough to truly pull it off. Granted, it’s not as if we have a whole lot of taboos remaining — I think at last count we had nine, and most of what’s left are things that will get piss poured on you in prison. Add to that the notion that most Americans pretty much expect everything to be double-entendred or sacrilegious nowadays, and it’s an uphill trek for the would-be shocker.

But there is one area in which traditional conventions remain in effect, and it requires no imagination to make work: cursing.

It’s nearly impossible to find a conversation not punctuated by at least casual dirty words. Literally every sentient American curses at one point or another, and those who don’t still know the words and their meanings. And unlike other practices that description could apply to, cursing is something we do regularly in front of other people. It’s not a secret and, in everyday conversation, not even shunned all that much. But for whatever reason, cursing in music remains an easy, and cheap, shock.

Profanity-laden music has a stigma that movies and comedy albums do not. When was the last time a movie’s DVD case had an explicit-script warning? Joe Pesci spews more F-bombs in most movies than Eminem does on any given album, but no one singles Pesci out as a threat to the children. It’s weird how that works.

And it does, even on me. While I own some of the most profane comedy albums and movies ever, none of my music CDs have that “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” scarlet decal. For whatever reason, I’ve never liked songs that feature excessive cursing.

I’m no prude when it comes to bad words, though my use of them has been spotty. I cursed like I had Tourette’s in my earliest years, but I didn’t curse all through my teens. I finally started back up in college after about the 35th time cool people stuttered around me, because they thought I had virgin ears that were also Amish. Nowadays, I curse mainly when I’m nervous or in the heat of passion, which is to say I curse when I’m nervous.

I don’t mind a smattering of profanity, or even a torrent when it’s done well — Steve Martin’s F-bomb tirade in “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” is a hilariously jarring interlude in what is otherwise a heartwarming holiday film — but in the wrong hands, it’s just a substitute for substance.

And that might be why I don’t like profanity in music. Not just because it takes up space reserved for substance (a silly notion considering I like ’80s New Wave), but because I like hearing notes and being able to sing lyrics. And so much profanity-laden music seems aimed at teenagers and preteens enjoying a little suburban rebellion. Which, to me, cheapens the deeper applications that make free speech worthwhile. And is also hard to justify liking when you’re 30.

I was never into gangsta rap for this reason, probably because I’ve known a few actual gang members, none of whom had the time or talent to rap. I lived most of my early life in a racially mixed, low-income neighborhood at its absolute nadir, with old Buick Regals passing through the streets at all hours blaring music seemingly for the exclusive purpose of freaking out the neighbors with the nastiness of the lyrics. But mostly, I equated gangsta rap with white suburban wannabes. I knew guys who thought black people shouldn’t be allowed within 100 feet of their septic tanks who listened to nothing else. Those two groups are more alike than often presumed, though it’s too bad it’s for this reason.

Early in his career, Eminem told SPIN magazine that hip-hop might be the key to ending racism. He might be right, but if the key to that is sharing a love for mindless cursing, violence and bling, then maybe this is the least of our problems.

At this point, the most shocking thing I can imagine happening in America is everyone coming together over a mutual understanding of humanity. A genuine rebellion over our hyper-capitalistic attitude, us-versus-them mentality and lust for shallow, foul things like pissing off mommy and daddy. That, and Lady Gaga looking human.

Fuck yeah.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"The hotter, the better"

Today, I am a published writer. Just like old times.


Check it out online at News-Leader.com. Here's the print version for you to enjoy (which will hopefully compel you to buy 10 copies and mail them to your relatives):


Before I knew the column inches I had available to me, I wrote a longer version of this, and I've been asked to share it. So here it is:

Summer means different things to different people. For me, it’s about searing heat. A scorching sun ruling the sky with no clouds to disturb its reign of radiation. Temperatures so ridiculously high that every thinking cell in your body is physically shoving you to the nearest air conditioner.

As if. I’ll take the heat! The hotter, the better.

I grew up in south Louisiana, where sweltering heat is a way of life right up there with Mardi Gras and cheering for the Saints. Every fond summer memory I have — playing sports, jumping on a friend’s trampoline, sitting outside for 30 seconds — is awash in perspiration. Down there, as they say, the four seasons are almost summer, summer, still summer and football. This has always been my favorite season. If, at the end of the day, my head is throbbing out “that was fun” in Morse code, I know it was time well spent.

All summer long, my brother and I would play Home Run Derby in our front yard. Or play hide-and-seek with our cousins. Once, we re-enacted the movie “Stand By Me,” except that our version was entirely us drinking from a canteen. We were too thirsty to bother with the rest of the scenes.

When the school year began each August, I’d sweat right through my brand-new clothes — and through my backpack and halfway into my textbooks — stifling any potential of being suave. This tendency to have pits of sweat marring my best shirts is why I have a personality today.

Living in Springfield has given me a new appreciation for summertime, because there’s something here called winter. It’s a time to be indoors and huddled under a blanket. I’m having none of that.

When summer strikes, there’s no doubt as to whether I’ll be outside. The only question is, will I bike, swim, play football or run? Cycling usually wins out, because there’s no better way under the sun to get moving. And sweating.

The Ozark Greenways trails are my personal escape. We’re lucky as a community to have them. One of my favorites is the Frisco Highline trail in north Springfield. It’s a 70-mile round trip from the Springfield trailhead to Bolivar. I’ve never done the whole route — my personal best is 52 miles. I’m an underachiever, I know. But distance isn’t the point; having fun knows no pace. Whether you’re on your bike or on foot, it’s refreshing to be out on the trail in the summer.

For nature lovers, picturesque foliage and the soothing sounds of nature abound. You’ll pass through scenic communities unblemished by strip malls. You might even find your new favorite restaurant or picnic spot. Natural shade is plentiful for those who like the outdoors a bit cooler. And, if you’re lucky, you might see a jet descending toward the airport runway. Or, more accurately, feel it.

These days, it’s often tough to tear yourself away from the Internet or your smartphone. But this is the best time of year to do just that. Not only is hitting the trail beneficial to your body and brain, but it’s also a chance to meet people and enjoy some of the best natural resources in Springfield. Pack water and sunscreen and make an afternoon of it.

Whether I’m alone or with friends, that long, winding path of the Frisco Highline Trail is an instant road trip. Nothing clears my mind quite like it. After a healthy ride, everything else is no sweat.

And just to show you I'm dedicated, take a look at my face:


It's a hard-knock life.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Stuff I found in my closet 2: Electric Boogaloo

So I finally finished cleaning out my closet yesterday. Here are some more things taking up space:

This Louisiana inspection sticker from 1991 (the "92" is when it expired) is the last remnant of one of my childhood sideline hobbies: collecting inspection stickers. Thus one came off a 1981 Buick Century that my mom drove for one year. I never had many of these, but my cousin did all our car inspections, and whenever I'd come along, he'd give them to me. I had a few from the 1980s, all of which got thrown away at some point. You can't even find images of them on Google. I wonder if anybody ever kept track of these, and who's responsible for the aesthetic vomit that was this sticker from 1989-91.

Another medical bracelet, this one from my back surgery. When I met the surgeon beforehand, he told me the operation was so simple that he often did it without looking at the monitor. He's apparently one of the best in the nation, though, so I trusted him. They gave me a mixture of valium and morphine to trip out on...before anesthesia. Having your first surgery at 21 years old tends to make you nervous. Happily, the surgery corrected the bulging disk, putting a permanent end to the pain for seven years. In 2008, I would need another MRI and physical therapy. I found the bracelets from those visits too, but this is already getting depressing.

This was a cartoon I drew for my high school newspaper. I had done one before this, and allegedly no one got it. It involved a kid's dad being happy about being selected for something in the mail, but then discovering that the mail was addressed to "occupant." The editors told me they toured campus with that one, asking friends if they understood it, and allegedly no one did. So I gave them this one instead. Make no mistake: this did not accurately reflect my sense of humor, which would not likely have even been considered for campus-wide dissemination. And even though my teacher wrote on the back that this was "cute," she suggested I draw it larger so that it could be scanned. Ah, 1997. Such a primitive time.

I went to see Cowboy Mouth on Oct. 29, 1999. But I'm guessing you figured that out. They played the Plaza in Lafayette, a club known for being closed as often as it was open.

My ex and I worked our way directly under center stage, right in the sweat trajectory of the drummer. At some point in the show, he tossed me his drumstick. Also, I had to literally pry a married woman in her 40s off of me. But you'll just have to take my word on that.

After the concert, I joined some friends playing midnight Q-Zar across the street. Note my dismal score. Yes, I was totally sober. But to be fair, the last time I'd played, I didn't even know how, and got -6,000. So, you know, getting better.

Don't know why I have these; probably got them from a Young Republicans table on campus during the election. I probably intended to deface them, like when I made a DOLE-KEMP bumper sticker spell KOLD PEE back in high school.

This is a self-portrait. I'm a Saints fan. Get it?

Monday, July 05, 2010

Stuff I found in my closet

I'm currently undertaking the most thorough cleaning of my closet in years. I've lived in my current abode for just over three years, but I'm a terminal pack rat, so some of these boxes date back more than a decade. Here are some of the crazier items I've found so far:

I've had this pack of valentines since high school. And to think I'm still single...


The ER bracelet from my concussion. In "What a Concussion Feels Like," I wrote how I read this bracelet and told them my birthday was wrong, even though nothing resembled it. Well, apparently that was wrong, since my birthdate is as clear as day on the label. It must have been my address I thought was on there. I can't remember (rim shot). But I've changed it on that piece, so let's roll with that revisionist history.


I bought my first vehicle, a 1993 Chevy S-10 pickup truck, for $900 in 1999. The radio, though fully functional, had most of its faceplate ripped out. Additionally, the digital display had been smashed in, several buttons were missing/constantly falling off and the cassette player's slot was cavernous enough for an 8-track tape. To cover up this eyesore, I meticulously cut this piece of paper to fit. As icing on the cake, I made it informative as well as MacGyverish, with a listing of my FM presets. Over the next six years, I went through three or four more of these, each more artistic than the last, as formats changed (stations 2 and 3 above, for example, didn't make it past the Clinton administration), until I finally just went with "RADIO" for the last one. 

For further truck-related reading, check out the owner's manual. Life lessons, friends.


What's remarkable about these wannabe 3-D glasses isn't that they're dated 1986; it's that I caught them at a Mardi Gras parade in 1999. In mint condition. The damage you see here is the result of two moves, years tucked tightly in a box and my general inability to handle collectibles with kid gloves. Vintage unwrapped Transformers wouldn't stand a chance with me.


Referendum 1 was a proposal that would have taken money allotted to UL Lafayette's Vermilion newspaper (for which I was a columnist at the time) and diverted it toward bringing free copies of the local daily newspaper to campus. Not a bad idea, but given that our student paper received a whopping $2 from each student per semester, we weren't too thrilled about how the referendum would tie knots in our frayed shoestrings. The Student Government Association (SGA) placed these cards all over campus. Every chance I got, I'd deface them like this. I also wrote a column urging students to vote it down. The referendum failed, no doubt entirely because of my efforts. And somehow, we wound up getting the free Daily Advertisers anyway. Viva democracy!


My mom gave me this booklet many years ago, her most telling gift since that time she bought me Clearasil. Maybe I should take a break from cleaning the closet and read it, finally.

Happy Fifth of July

My Fourth was....interesting.

First, we played our weekly game of flag football. The fireworks flew (sorry). I got decked on both sides of my jaw, skinned both knees and suffered brushburns on my arms and shoulders. Several skirmishes broke out.

Then I went home and cleaned out my closet. It's amazing how much cheap, disposable crap a single human being can possess.

At nightfall, I walked a few blocks to catch a 360-degree panorama of fireworks. My chosen spot was at the very edge of an empty movie-theater parking lot, which overlooks a highway. Spectacular view of the pyrotechnics. About 45 minutes in, the theater's rent-a-security SUV parked a small distance behind me. I stayed put for a while, but eventually moved over about a foot into a patch of dirt next to the pavement. When I did that, the SUV sidled up parallel to me, but pointed in the opposite direction. I finally got creeped out enough to leave. After taking a few steps, I turned around and the vehicle was gone. Midwestern corporate passive-aggressiveness is so endearing.

I then went back to my place and chatted with faraway (and close) friends on Facebook for a few hours.

Doesn't get much more American than all that.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Things I Don't Miss

"Things Facebook Killed" edition

1) "Lucky" e-mail forwards

In 1999, the Internet was still a vast frontier. The Net then was largely an unholy hybrid of corporate sites and GeoCities hackery, and people communicated with one another through e-mail. This “e-mail” thing involved sending electronic messages via such quaint entities as “AOL,” “Hotmail” and “Your College Server,” so that a person on the other side could receive and read it instantly. E-mail was like a crude Facebook, with a 2 MB limit. It was a revolutionary mode of communication that would eventually connect us all and make first-class mail and reading anything on paper completely obsolete.

But as often happens when you give celebrity-obsessed Americans unfettered access to instant worldwide communication, they start using it. Because people really care what they think. Combine that with our national pastime of lazily adopting others’ words as our own, and the byproduct couldn’t possibly look like anything other than what it did.

Now make a wish!

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Don’t cheat, or whatever...
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You know, typing out even one of those things is tedious...
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There. Your wish came true. NSYNC should be here any minute.

(Get your e-mail free for life with petcratedelivery.com! Y2K ready! Sign up now!)
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Despite MySpace’s best efforts, these forwards did not die (though good web design, literacy and taste were collateral damage). It took Facebook to have no viable outlet for them for my wish to really come true. So even though that means my e-mail account is 99 percent Facebook messages these days, at least people are saying stuff again.

And speaking of MySpace...

2) MySpace

My MySpace space is a bastard child on its face. Whereas I joined Facebook in early 2005, when only college students were allowed, my foray into MySpace was a long-delayed effort to connect with everyone not on Facebook. I joined in September 2006, being the last American under 30 to join the site (I have a certificate signed by Tom and everything).

The reason for the dithering was because I never liked MySpace. By the time I created an account, I had been blogging for more than two years, and I had taught myself enough HTML to be completely horrified by the interface.

Not that that’s what it takes to be horrified by the interface. It’s terrible on multiple levels, the most obvious being that the appeal of bling-bling is that you’re showing off your conspicuous consumption. An animation of diamonds and dollar signs? That’s just sad. Like a dollar-bill tattoo on your love handle. Good luck making change!

MySpace had the bulletin board, which was a proto-feed where your friends could share messages. It differed from Facebook’s later version in one key aspect: on MySpace, you were still semi-anonymous. Your friends might have known who you were, but you could still claim plausible deniability if somehow your rant about Obama’s stool testing positive for communism made its way into your boss’s inbox via e-mail forward. Also, you weren’t online friends with your boss. That too.

When Facebook opened its virtual doors to everyone, that was the end of MySpace’s relevance to the masses. Bands still use it, though, which is convenient both for them and for me, so I know to ignore them outright.

3) Porn e-mails

That’s what the rest of the Internet is for.