Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A bus ride down memory lane

Sunday was the first time in a while that I picked up a print copy of my hometown newspaper. I read it online occasionally, mostly to check out what the anonymous masses of Lafayette aren’t thinking in their comments.

It was there that I noticed that my elementary-school bus driver had died on June 20 at the age of 86. It made me want to cry.

Milton Jolivette Sr. wasn’t my first or last bus driver. But he drove me around more than anyone else did, except for my parents and grandparents. Maybe.

Whispers at the bus stop

From kindergarten through 3rd grade (1985 to 1989), I rode bus 136 (actually one of at least two rotating Superior buses) to Woodvale Elementary School. 

It's still there.
Every morning in that time span, my grandfather would take my older brother Colin and I (and later just me) down the street and down the next block to our bus stop. He’d stand at the telephone pole until the bus came, tacitly watching the other kids as well as us. In the afternoons, he’d be back to greet us with a smile and we’d catch up on the walk back home.

I grew up in an area of downtown Lafayette known as Freetown. It was (and is) a mix of working-class families and college students, which bus 136 reflected. I lived there until I was 19, and my experiences there have everything to do with who I am today.

My bus stop
My bus stop was directly in front of Menard’s Body Shop, which still stands today. Over the years, houses directly across and to the right of our stop were torn down for parking lots. There was also a second, crooked telephone pole next to the one that’s still there.

Reverse angle
Our stop was among our neighborhood’s busiest, with up to a dozen kids at a time. Some of them were bad news, but it was mostly a case of bark being worse than bite. I was (big shock alert) one of the quieter kids, usually standing at the edge of the sewer in anticipation of being the first on the bus when it arrived.

That wasn't a metaphor. It's an actual sewer.
But I could more than hold my own with the crowd when necessary. We often riffed about TV shows, Nintendo, Transformers, wrestling, school, how cool it was to live in the 1980s and/or anything else that came up. (One day Mr. Menard drove up in a DeLorean, and someone insisted it was a Fiero. I knew my Back to the Future and argued otherwise. That got pretty heated.) Sometimes a tough boy would ask if I wanted to fight. I always said no. It’s nice to be able to opt out of an altercation.

Through good times and bad, I always enjoyed being at the bus stop and the anticipation/dread of going to school. And I always looked forward to my daily ritual of stepping onto bus 136.

Get on the bus

Mr. Jolivette’s bus picked up kids in my neighborhood and at the family housing at the then-University of Southwestern Louisiana. As a result, we had an incredibly diverse ridership of black, white, Asian and Middle Eastern students. Many of my closest friends and classmates of the time came from those rides, and the cultural awakening was an education in itself.

When I took this picture, I subconsciously watched for the bus.
Part of the reason I remember Mr. Jolivette so well was because he, and his bus, had personality. Everybody who rode his bus knew him and he knew us. He frequently chatted with us during the ride, and you always felt protected. Even when he got mad, there was still respect, because he’d tell you how to fix the situation.

Mr. Jolivette regularly cranked up the radio, usually to KFXZ (or, as I called it, KLFXE), though sometimes he’d play a pop station such as KSMB. To this day, I can’t hear Run-DMC’s “You Be Illin’” or Kool and the Gang’s “Victory” without picturing myself sitting in bus 136. (True story: A fellow rider sang “Victory” as “A&P,” and I thought that was the correct lyric for years afterward.)

He had a strict seating protocol for the bus, which in four years I never saw anyone break. Girls sat on the left, boys on the right, three to a seat. When you got on the bus, you sat in the next available spot (as a result, kids often jockeyed to sit next to a friend or not sit next to someone). This was so ingrained in us that I was later surprised to be told on another bus that I could sit wherever I wanted.

As a seeming tradeoff, though, he allowed us to eat and drink on the bus. I almost never did, but a lot of riders took him up on that.

Each day, one of the older kids would patrol the aisles throughout the ride. This was an honor, and only a handful of riders ever got to do it. Though the idea was that the older kids would keep order, they never abused the privilege and were almost always friendly. They spread gossip and news. When my brother had an emergency appendectomy, it was the girl on patrol who asked me about him and relayed the news to our concerned friends. When I was 8 and had a brand-new book yanked out of my hands and thrown around, it was the patroller who grabbed back the book for me. They always had my back. I liked the patrollers.

Still, the rides weren’t always smooth sailing. During my very first trip on the bus, on the first day of kindergarten in 1985, I was bullied. Mr. Jolivette had to pick up students for both Woodvale and nearby L.J. Alleman Middle School, which meant all the seats were full and I had to sit in the aisle, in the back. Some of the older kids ribbed me throughout the ride, and I remember saying, “You’re all in sixth grade!” They laughed at that. Hard. When we got to L.J. Alleman, the oldest riders got out. I remember misreading the school sign, thinking it said “Man School.” Hey, they were men to me. When we pulled up at Woodvale, Mr. Jolivette let me off first, along with a future friend who was equally small. I appreciated that gesture.

(Side note: That year, 136 was the “turtle bus” for us kindergartners. Which is precisely the animal you want to associate with a mass-transit vehicle.)

Boarding the bus on my first day of kindergarten. I seem to know what's about to happen on that ride. So do my brother and Mr. Jolivette.
Other times, we’d have to pick up kids from other neighborhoods (or their bus would pick us up). Those were horribly traumatizing days for some of us, because the buses were crowded and we went into these weird neighborhoods with fancy cars and manicured yards. In cases where our bus picked up the weak Ward-riding kids from the suburbs and then detoured back onto our route, some would say, “Uh, I think we’re lost,” with looks on their faces I wouldn’t understand for years. Mostly, though, we’d worry because such double duty would make us late for school. Oh no! (I was too young to appreciate that yet.)

But the good memories far outweigh the bad. I spent many a ride sharpening my reading skills. If I didn’t have a book, I focused my then-strong eyes on the list of rules at the front of the bus. But as I so often did, I misread the part about no glass objects (“except eyeglasses” became “expect eyeglasses”) — so when I got my first pair of glasses in kindergarten, I asked if I could bring them with me. Mr. Jolivette was OK with that. Phew. After all, reading the small print of that sign was probably why I got glasses in the first place.

 Much changed during the Jolivette era, but smiles for the camera never did.
Other things I did to pass the time when I wasn’t socializing with friends or absorbing the fascinating scenery of Johnston Street included trading Garbage Pail Kids cards; making paper airplanes on which I drew elaborate designs but in no way represented any aerodynamic shape; creating folding and/or board games; devouring Hardy Boys books; or, my oddly pointless favorite, counting all the way home. I’d come close to 600 on a good day.

The Horsey Ride

One of our favorite parts of the trip home was what we dubbed “The Horsey Ride.”

Each afternoon, the bus would hit McKinley Street, a row of bars and dorms known to college kids as “The Strip.” Along the campus section of the street at the time was a row of student parking, with a sign that advertised “$100 per semester.” (I thought that represented the total cost of tuition, and thought it was high.) Across the street from that were the fraternity houses, the weird letters of which convinced me they were Satanic mind-control cults.

(Side note: Mom, Colin and I frequently took walks around the neighborhood in those days, and I’d beg her not to walk down this street because I was terrified of looking the frat boys in the eyes. I didn’t want to be indoctrinated into what I called Pi Nalpha Alpha or Tit-Ka.)

Near the beginning of the university block sat a bump. I’m not sure if it was a full-on speed bump, but it acted like one.

The road is repaved and flat now. Lame.
When we saw it coming, we’d brace our hands on the seat in front of us and shift our weight forward, like we were in the saddle. And upon contact, BAM! Those of us holding on would leap several inches off our seats and squeal. If enough people were doing it, you’d see a wave from one set of wheels to the other. Some kids caught pretty impressive air.

Eventually, enough of us did it to where Mr. Jolivette yelled to the back, “Quit doing the Horsey Ride!” But we didn’t.

Booger

One kid no one ever wanted to sit next to was Booger. He was called that because he had boogers in his nose. I liked him, though, and had no problem sitting next to him. He signed my yearbook in third grade (not as Booger) and my brother erased it. Booger was the butt of many jokes, even though there was a brother-sister pair on the bus who always had runny noses, and no one ever called them the Snot Siblings. Then again, snot isn’t boogers, is it?

Let it snow

I saw my first-ever snowflakes while riding Mr. Jolivette’s bus, in February 1988. We were about three blocks from my stop when Louisiana’s first snowfall since 1973 descended upon us. “It’s snowing!” some boy exclaimed, and indeed it was. It hit its stride in the hours afterward, blanketing the area in several inches of ballable snow that locals talk about to this day. But I’ll never forget being in bus 136 when it started.

End of the line

At a parade during my kindergarten year, I ran into Mr. Jolivette while walking the streets with two of my great aunts. Not only did he recognize me, but he picked me up high, made a happy face and walked a few feet before putting me down. “Who is that?” one of my aunts asked. “Mr. Jolivette! He’s my bus driver!” I said enthusiastically.

The last time I saw Mr. Jolivette was while walking to another parade in late 1989 or early 1990. I saw him in his bus on a side street, and my brother said he was retiring. “What?” I replied in disbelief. An era would soon be over.

And now, another era is over. Rest in peace, Mr. Jolivette. And thanks for the ride.

Misusing family photos

Monday, June 27, 2011

Blahg

Writer's block sucks. I want to hurt it with a left hook tipped with thorns.

This isn't the first time. I also suffered from it six years ago.

I can't even think of a clever way to end this post.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gratuitous foodity

Tipping. Probably a bad thing to have a nuanced opinion about.

(Full disclosure: I have never worked for tips. I have slung fast food, and worked other jobs at which I’ve been occasionally tipped. This puts me in “you’ll never understand” territory. I realize that. That’s where I live. Just hear me out.)

I see tipping as a meaningful gesture and a referendum on service. I tip at least 20 percent by default — 15 percent if you suck, up to 40 if you’re awesome and/or a friend. (Or, given my shoddy math skills, up to 120 percent.) I get as much gratification giving out a well-deserved tip as the person (or people) does in receiving it.

What I don’t think a tip should be is a guilt tax. Most servers insist it’s a customer’s duty to tip, because that’s what makes up most of their salary. Which is true, because most U.S. restaurants get away with paying obscenely low training wages. Therein lies the rub — that sucks. Few other industries get away with charging markup on their products and then expecting extra, unspoken costs on top of that. But the way the system works, it leaves us with no choice if we want our servers to get paid. Which leads to a weird irony — it’s us, not the restaurant industry, toward whom servers are most standoffish.

We’re told that servers’ survival hangs on our tips. And that many servers are already jaded from past incidents of chintz, so their smiles conceal veiled loathing from the outset. And if we don’t tip well, we risk being blacklisted and quite possibly having spit dressing accenting our next meal.

As much I understand their plight, such attitudes are exhausting. As is the oft-repeated notion that serving is a demanding job. I know it is, but so is every job I’ve ever had. And I’ve never had the opportunity to have a “good” night.

All of this makes me wonder if a good tip mitigates a customer’s abrasive attitude, and vice versa. Mostly I’m worried about the vice versa part. I don’t like value judgments based on money, and this is no exception.

As is the case with most other issues, tipping appeals to me in the positive sense — I like making a gesture of good will above and beyond my obligation. What I hate is feeling pressured to do so even if the service is awful, or being hit with rude and/or snobbish rhetoric that pinpoints us as the reason servers struggle. Seriously, what did we do? I try, just like I know you do.

Tipping is right up there with health care in things the U.S. does exactly wrong: In most other countries, servers are paid a living wage and tips are unheard of, or otherwise are given as genuine gratuities. Here, we’re compelled to tip because it’s the server’s salary and they lack benefits, and they often get taxed on tips regardless of whether they actually receive them.

If restaurants paid servers a living wage, and still allowed them to collect tips, then I think this problem would right itself.

A common rebuttal to raising wages is that it will drive up the price of food. Well, that’s debatable, given that 1) many countries that don’t do tips have comparable prices; 2) prices tend to rise regardless; and 3) food often has a generous markup. But even if it would raise meal prices, we already pay more, arbitrarily. And I would have no problem paying a slightly higher defined price on the menu if it meant my server could afford to live (which I imagine would reduce a lot of their job stress).

The tip I left would still be generous and be as meaningful as I intended it to be. And shouldn’t that be the point?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

You have nothing, Whitney? I'm jealous

I didn't want to blog about this, but it's the main thing on my mind right now.

One day, when I'm famous, slathered in awesome sauce and have amassed a fortune the likes of which the world has never seen ... or, for that matter, when I find myself as financially fortunate as I was on this infamous day, I will be able to look back on this week and feel better. The "at least I'm not that broke" period.

Don't get me wrong; I have a roof over my head and a promising job lead, as well as friends and family offering support in the meantime. I'm not complaining. And I'll be out of the hole in a day or two.

I'm just a person not used to living in debt. As the bumper sticker says, I'm weird. It's nice to have money for the essentials you need, when you need them.

I feel terrible for the people who always have to live this way. Aren't we as a nation better than this?

It ties into something I was thinking about yesterday — as times remain tough and sometimes get worse, more and more people it seems are quantifying everything in dollars and cents. I've been nearly laughed out of debates recently for suggesting that maybe saving a few dollars isn't worth losing our humanity. 

I'm not talking about your garden-variety libertarian or tea-party stances, either; it's nearly everyone I talk to, regardless of inclination, who are convinced that desperate times call for desperate measures. And those desperate measures have no room for human decency. They make me feel like an ass for bringing up any argument that isn't 100 percent economic. This troubles me, because it tells me that if conditions are bad enough, people become more hard-line in their views. And I can see why politicians who want to deny help via social programs, infrastructure spending, etc., would want this trend to continue. It's a lot easier to argue against government spending when people feel like they can't spare another cent. As a result, people see their benefits cut; even private companies claim bottom-line issues when laying off workers while bosses continue to collect obscene bonuses. The poverty and dependence that results continues the vicious cycle.

I don't think it will even begin to end until people stop buying the line that these austerity measures are for their own good. Because they're not. Our national problem isn't debt — it's greed, compounded by the have-nots racing to the bottom over who deserves what scraps are left. And personally, I'm tired of Social Darwinism becoming the go-to philosophy for dealing with this. 

I guess what I'm saying is, I'm tired of people's fears, troubles and hunger driving their views into extreme territory. The U.S. right now is like a starving child in school who's making failing grades. The problem is that the child needs food, but all anyone wants to do is paddle him until he makes an A. It's almost paradoxical, but we have to get better before we can think about how we can get better. And the way to do that is to ensure basic needs are met. That's our primary obstacle. And one so often drowned out in the all-pocketbook debate.

The good thing is that we as a nation are resilient. Fortunes can change on a dime. Can someone spare one for us?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yielding the floor to the unyielding

Sometimes headlines go above and beyond to grab you.

Earth to the Left: Obama Is Into You is one of those headlines.

Michael Grunwald makes a better case than I ever could about why President Obama is not the shameless, disappointing sellout that many on the left make him out to be. He refers to such vociferous critics as "disillusionment addicts," a term so apt it makes me want to quit blogging.

And because I no longer have it in me today, I've enlisted a guest blogger to expound upon the topic. He's only too happy to do so. Meet Cort Rory, a fixture at Democratic Underground and Daily Kos, as well as various parties where he just goes off, man.

Obama is the worst president in the history of ever

By Cort Rory
Not a sheeple

In the future, when historians revive talk about the worst presidents ever, Barack Obama will unanimously rocket to the top of that list. Or should I say, bottom?

Hell, you could say that right now. Obama’s only been president for a little over two years, and already he’s failed to accomplish everything he said he’d do in his first term. How lame is that?

I’ll tell you what else is lame — a politician not keeping all of his campaign promises. I was really thunderstruck by that one. And it’s not like Obama promised a whole lot either; he vowed to fix the worst economy since the Great Depression and promised a new approach to multiple quagmires in the Middle East. And yet, we’re still struggling. Why? He’s the president, the most powerful man in the world! All he has to do is say the word! We all know how amazingly he spoke on the campaign trail. Where did that magic go?

What sets Obama apart is that, unlike with George W. Bush, Richard Nixon and James Buchanan, I actually held some hopes for Obama. He campaigned on “hope” and “change,” which made me think that he and I were on the same wavelength. And not just in the broad terms meant to appeal to millions of Americans with different hopes and dreams, but to my specific political wish list. So as you can imagine, it’s devastated me that Obama has reneged on the promises that I knew in my heart he intended to fulfill.

For example, Obama said he intended to escalate in Afghanistan, but I knew that was political posturing. After all, I supported Obama, and I was in favor of full withdrawal from both Afghanistan and Iraq. So imagine my disappointment when Obama assumed office and escalated in Afghanistan. Knock knock! Who ordered a third Bush term? And don’t even get me started on Osama bin Laden! When they smoked him out of his hole, I could only think of Cowboy Bush’s “dead or alive” schtick. And now I hear we’re drawing down in Afghanistan, just like we did in Iraq? Simply a desperate, election-year tactic. Even his victories are losses, because he insists on compromising to get votes in Congress. It’s a miracle he has a single accomplishment to his name! With such wishy-washy leadership, Obama might as well concede to the Republicans right this minute.

Hell, I’m thinking of voting Republican this time around. Me! I defy you to find someone who hated George W. Bush more than I did throughout the past decade. It was during his term that I really began to lose faith in my country. In fact, it’s hard to even imagine life before January 2001 anymore. Can anyone? All I remember nowadays is the anger and disillusionment that has raged endlessly since then. And I’m fully aware of who is to blame.

And yet, the Republicans look more attractive with each case of Obama letting me down. Yes, they’re reprehensible leviathans who equate greed with patriotism and pretty much care only about rich white people, but at least with them, you know what you’re getting. If they turn this great nation upside-down and reduce its national pulse to a mere ebb, that’s at least in line with their extremist agenda. And there’s a twisted integrity to that. With Obama, as with most Democrats, you hope he’ll govern from a hard-left perspective and he doesn’t. And even when times turn out better, as tends to happen under Democratic administrations, it’s still disappointing. And I’d rather be angry than disappointed.

Obama was our best hope for a Kucinichian president. Sure, he often campaigned as a pragmatic centrist, but sometimes you have to play the game. The United States of America is a huge country, with 300 million diverse people. No matter what a president does, he’s bound to piss off a huge chunk of the electorate at any given moment. So why antagonize the people who elected you?

Like me?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Trackpad travails

I just got my laptop back from the local Apple store. The trackpad had not been working consistently for months, so I'm excited that it's working better now and I don't have to tote around a borrowed pink mouse anymore.

When I walked to the desk, I saw that my machine was on, with the web browser tuned to this blog. I always feel weird when I go to a public place (or, in one case, a job interview) and see Not Right About Anything on the screen. On top of that, it occurred to me that my most recent blog at that point was how I didn't expect my computer to be held over as long as it had been. Then I noticed that my desktop background had been changed to the default image. I put 2 and 2 and lots of other twos together in a paranoia-fueled train of thought. Silly rabbit.

I asked the guy about the desktop image and if everything was OK, and he said that should be the only thing that changed. "Whatever home site you had on there is still there," he said. I didn't know whether to feel reassured or miffed. "Whatever home site?" Actually, I kind of like that.

So anyway, my trackpad is working again and everything is right with the world again. And by world, I mean my laptop. The world is still a pretty jacked-up place. So if you're reading this, Apple Orchard people, you're awesome! Thank you for the prompt service. I'll be sure to visit for Mac merch if I ever have money again.

Sincerely,
The Whatever Home Site Guy

I can't stress this enough...

If you believe that government is the problem, not just in practice but in principle, DON'T RUN FOR OFFICE!

This seems to be the driving force for too many candidates these days, at all levels. Not just that particular officials are corrupt, but that the whole system is beyond redemption. Granted, there are legit arguments to be made for both cases. We do have corrupt public leaders. Our system could stand an overhaul or three.

But why spend time and money running for office if you don't believe in the office? And why the hell would anyone vote for someone who thought so? We don't do this in any other arena. I would hope my cross-country bus driver held some regard for traffic laws. And that my riverboat pilot didn't punch a hole in his boat to defy everyone who told him that was a bad idea. I certainly would want a schoolteacher to see the school system as something worth saving. Or a judge to have faith in the legal system.

And yet, a slew of politicians currently campaign (and govern) on the notion that the best government is a weak one, and that we should do all we can to undermine it. This "government is the problem" line of thinking became especially popular with Ronald Reagan, and can be seen most acutely in today's Republican hopefuls for president.

I defy you to find one person in that crowded field who (at least publicly) concedes that government fulfills vital needs, beyond the cursory defense nod. Mitt Romney finds himself in trouble with the base because he backed a health care program that worked. Michele Bachmann courts the tea party vote, as do most of the others. Rick Perry and Sarah Palin either have pushed, or are tied to, secessionist rhetoric. All of them need to appeal to an enraged electorate that is convinced that government is essentially evil. So that they can run the government.

Either they're courting misinformed voters by catering to their ignorance, or they really believe what they're saying and intend to prove government incompetence by being incompetent themselves. It's either cynicism or nihilism, and it's hard to tell which is worse.

If these broken-system people were serious about their stance, they'd foment a revolution, like the kind that led to the creation of the United States in the first place. But something tells me that isn't about to happen. Not only because it's a different era, but because engaging in such would be a futile and dangerous exercise, one that even if successful would expose a glaring lack of alternative. Also, I suspect even the most steamed patriots would back off the idea of actually watering the bloody tree: "You know, it's bad, but I don't think it's that bad. Let's ride this thing out a bit longer before we get too rash. Not sure my Medicaid would cover it."

The truth is, we'd all be behind any true need for revolution, because things would be that bad. One party being out of power is not that clarion call. Remember, the tea party patriots of today are the same people who just a few years ago equated dissent over the war on terror with treason, and today's government advocates are the ones who couldn't be suspicious enough of it when it was in the previous president's hands. Neither is without cause, nor without the influence of the pendulum.

In any case, even a conservative voter has to think twice about what their aligned candidates are selling. Exactly whose best interest is it in to vote in leaders who don't like the government and would rather express spite than lead?

It's a testament to our deep partisan divide that Republicans have any chance at all in 2012. Even Reagan and Bush stood for something besides nothing.

I'm not quite dead

My laptop is in the shop right now. It was supposed to be a brief, outpatient stay, but despite last week's reservation, it's not. My complete absence here and on Facebook for 24 hours alarmed a lot of people. How sweet! And weird.

I'm typing this on another laptop right now, with a floaty keyboard that occasionally connects with the circuitry. I thought my mom was misspelling words on Facebook because she can't spell, but I stand corrected. Her spelling skills are fine. Now I understand.

It took me six hours to type and correct that. Not really. Five.

Now to catch up...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fun father facts

• I have a dad. People say I look like him. The devil you say.

• When I was very little, I thought my dad's name was literally "Daddy." I understood that dads have real first names, like Jim, and Daddy just happened to be his.

• My middle name is his first name, Paul. It was also his mom’s middle name.

• I once knew a guy whose parents were professors of art history, with concentrations in French and 20th century movements respectively. His first word was “Dada.”

• That was a joke.

• According to my baby book, my first word was “dada.” It was also my sister’s, which I heard. Hers was more like, “dadadadadada,” so I’ve been skeptical of that milestone ever since.

• In Italian, Pope translates into Il Papa, or “The Father.” But the pope is not supposed to be a father.

• On Father’s Day 1990, we had a big family party. Early in the day, I made a mistake in adjusting my bike chain and it slipped off the sprockets all afternoon. My brother, cousins and I tried and failed to properly set it, and I finally got an uncle later in the day to repair it. At the time, I called it “The worst day of my life.” It’s since been supplanted.

• I wonder if the kids of an NBA or track star ever called their father “Daddy Longlegs.” I totally would.

• In 2006, I got confused and sent my dad a Father’s Day present in July. He said that I had given him something the previous month. I was in Utah at the time, so I blame Mountain Time.

• No one calls me daddy. Not in that context, anyway.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Snakes on a psychological plane

Just now, I was reading an article that referenced snakes-in-a-can, and I had a visceral reaction.

I can't recall ever having had snakes pop out of the can in question. My only experience with the gag as a child involved reading about it in a comic-book advertisement. The ad had a cartoon drawing of the colorful snakes springing forth, and copy that ended with, "You'll laugh till it hurts!"

Well, I misread that last part. Maybe it was because I thought they were real snakes, or I didn't know how hard and fast they'd spring out, or because I was an ignorant child, but I read it this way: "You'll laugh...till it HURTS!" Meaning, it won't be funny anymore after the snakes start causing you pain. And I thought to myself, "That's a mean prank to play. Why would you want to hurt people?"

No amount of seeing this toy in TV shows, movies, commercials or among friends — or, for that matter, realizing I was wrong not even that much later — ever completely shook me of that misconception. So to this day, I wince a little when I read about snakes in a can. But only for a split-second or so. It hurts. Then I laugh.

I guess I can expect to get snakes-in-a-can any day now. This happens more than you think when I write stuff like this. You know else I'm scared of? The Nintendo Wii.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dillard's pickle

I don't go to the mall often, but when I do, I drink Dos Equis.

Shoot...blew my cover.

Er, what I meant to say was: I don't go to the mall often, but when I do, I prefer to go through a main entrance. I find this is almost never the case when I go with anyone else. For some reason, it's a virtual compulsion of family and friends to want to walk straight into an anchoring department store. Not because it’s necessarily closer, but just because, I guess.

I tend to not want to do that for three reasons: 1) I like the architecture and the bustle of the mall itself; 2) The stores that cater to things I like tend to be deep within the mall; and 3) Most department store ground floors do not appeal to me, because I don’t wear lingerie or trendy anything.

Nevertheless, I found myself in Baton Rouge with an hour of free time yesterday, so I decided to check out the Mall of Louisiana for the first time. I found what I thought was the main entrance, but was partially obscured by a hill. The hill had what I thought was a staircase, so I parked my car in front of Dillard’s. Once I realized the staircase was a hallucination, I decided just to go through Dillard’s.

“I can remember this,” I thought. “I came through Dillard’s.”

After 45 minutes or so checking out what the Mall of Louisiana had to offer someone with enough money for a gumball (answer: no gumball machines), I decided to head home. I went through Dillard’s and out the side door — only to find that it was the wrong exit. OK, big deal. All malls are like this. I obviously went through the wrong side, and just have to find the other one. In this case, the hill was on the left, when it should have been on my right. Well, that’s easy enough to remedy; after all, I have a working sense of spatial reasoning. The answer is to find the other side entrance.

But I never found it. Then it occurred to me that there are actually two Dillard’s in the mall, or four if you count the split-level storefronts. Why it’s that way, I can’t imagine. I do know that one caters to women and the other to men. Separate but equally mystifying.

I had no memory of passing the giant children’s playpen that’s in front of the men’s store, but at that point I wasn’t exactly trusting my memory. The side doors of that store also yielded nothing familiar, though the lots looked just enough like what I recalled to keep me wandering for awhile.

Finally, I went back to the women’s Dillard’s, convinced that was the correct store. A cute sales clerk approached me and asked if she could help me.

“No thank you, I’m just looking for my car,” I replied.

“Well, look for it with this Prada fragrance sample,” she said. “It makes a great Father’s Day gift. Keep it in mind, OK?”

Note to Dillard’s: she didn’t tackle me or shove a clipboard in my face. Clearly, Sears is winning the aggression competition.

I went outside and thought I’d hit pay dirt. I saw what I thought was the other side of the hill — the same thing I’d seen the first time, but this time I decided to hike it. The sucky thing was, you can’t just climb over this hill, because it’s too steep and laden with obstacles; instead, you have to walk all the way around to the tip, which is perilously close to a stop sign. That makes it a really long walk in the heat. But I brave it, because I just know my car is on the other side. I’m so confident about my success that I text to my friend that I’d finally found my car.

Oops. Spoke too soon. This is a completely different parking lot! What kind of Blair Witch crap is this?!!!

But of course, there’s a Dillard’s entrance there (like with every other corner of this massive mall, apparently), so I stagger in. This time, I’m just ready to throw in the towel. I walk up to a man offering cologne samples (again, like everyone else at Dillard’s). He hands me a few while calling me “boss,” then turns away before I can talk to him. A woman nearby asks if I need help, and I explain my situation. She asks me if I remembered what I saw when I walked in.

“A bunch of stuff I was not planning to browse or buy,” I should have said.

“Sounds like you could have come in from upstairs,” another associate with a curious grasp of logic said.

“Security could probably help you,” said a third woman in a tone that suggested the other two stop talking to this monetary dead-end.

“OK, thanks,” I said to the trio. But then the third woman said, “If you’re thinking of that big dome next to the hill, that’s in the women’s store next to Sears. Go this way and that.” So I was in the men’s store, apparently. That was a long hike.

So I finally found it that way. I think. By then I was dizzy. This whole episode took 25 very economical, long-lasting minutes. It felt longer than the drive home, and that took more than an hour.

To close with another Dos Equis reference, parking at the Mall of Louisiana is a good way to stay thirsty.

A feeling of resignation

I rarely, if ever, kick up a post of mine, especially a recent one. But Anthony Weiner's much-anticipated resignation is heavily on my mind today. I've talked about it with friends since it happened and continue to do so online today. What I have to say is nearly identical to what I wrote a few days ago when the scandal broke, so check out Weiner dogged if you haven't yet.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Eating my words

I've been talking a lot about food since writing that last blog. Guess I walked right into that one.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is something wrong with me?

I don't like food.

OK, let me clarify: I like food. But talking about it tends to bore me to tears. 

It's such an infinite and subjective topic. And I'm a picky eater.

When it comes to traveling, reading or most other experiences, I am as adventurous as they come. I'm open to all sorts of things I didn't even realize I wanted to do until I did them. My only limits are stupid risks and anything that might hurt my back (without promising something awesome in return). But when it comes to food, I'm often physically terrified. Does that have mayonnaise on it? Is one of those cheeses cream? Does this have trans fats in it? Please don't use that dirty knife on my sandwich! Yeah, I pretty much suck.

Which is why talking with me about food is like asking me to do calculus: I can tell you calculus is some form of math, but that's it.

It probably doesn't help that I come from south Louisiana (from restaurateur stock, no less), where food is a personal expression and refusal is seen as a personal affront rather than as a matter of individual taste. That'll kill a picky eater's appetite (and social confidence) quick. 

I guess I just like eating food more than I like talking about it. Or that I know I'm stupid about the subject. Maybe both.

That hasn't stopped me from writing about it, though, because talking about things about which you know little is the American way.

In fact, about a year before I became the liberal columnist for the UL Vermilion, I applied to be food columnist (hey, it was an in). I wasn't even going to try to follow the genuine foodie who preceded me, so my planned approach was to review the local fast-food places and other nearby dives as if I were a stuffy, four-star critic (and they were four-star restaurants). Somehow, the editors liked my pitch and asked me to turn in samples. I wrote several killer reviews, among them Taco Bell and McDonald's. 

However, it was not meant to be. Minutes before the submission deadline, I approached the editor with my clips, which were handwritten, and she refused them, saying they had to be on floppy disk. She had neglected to tell me this beforehand (and I'd been allowed to hand-write trial submissions in the past). My guess is that she had second thoughts about the idea in the first place. It was probably a good call.

Maybe those clips will find a new life here, if ever I find them.

Guess I do care about food after all.

Monday, June 13, 2011

At least he didn't tweet his wiener

Anybody in another state want to trade residencies with me?

I ask that because while I love Louisiana, I hate having to vote here. It seems like the only choices we ever have are between radical Republicans and uninspiring Democrats who use the word “conservative” to describe themselves in their ads.

Between the advent of the tea party and my four-year flirtation with comparatively more diverse Missouri elections, my ballots are harder than ever to mark. It’s more of a process of elimination than anything else. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of deal-breakers to go around.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry (R-District 3) recently snubbed an invitation to discuss the debt ceiling at the White House with President Obama and other prominent leaders. Landry has garnered a lot of press for his decision, the reasons for which he laid out in this Daily Advertiser editorial:

I have the utmost respect for the presidency, Congress, and the Constitution. However — during his presidential tenure — Barack Obama has blatantly ignored Congress, our courts, the Constitution, and — most importantly — the American people. Regardless, I did not attend the meeting because of my commitment to the people of the 3rd District. They elected me to be a different kind of Congressman ...

To paraphrase: “The American people deserve leadership that will go to Washington and demand that Obama and Congress represent the American people. Washington is a terrible place housing a broken system, which is why I spent time and money feverishly convincing you to send me there. Now that it’s my turn to represent and shake things up, the last thing I need to do is to represent and shake things up. I’d rather sit back, do nothing, harrumph about it for the media and let Obama stew over the political victory that I earned from my lack of leadership.”

Now, I’m not exactly a conservative or vaguely one either, but I imagine that a citizen’s desire to be represented transcends party lines. At least in theory. In practice, it’s not that hard to picture Landry’s constituency just as happy that he held his breath until he turned blue.

What that’s supposed to accomplish is a mystery to me. I guess President Obama’s supposed to say, “Well, this freshman from Louisiana won’t talk to me. He really stuck it to us Democrats! Guess we’ll change into Republicans now!”

Seems to me more like he’d say, “Well, Rep. Landry had a chance to pitch his views, but he decided not only to not visit, but to make a political stunt out of it. We can’t afford such petulance in these tough economic times.”

Any way you slice it, Landry’s snub is at best a sugar high for Louisiana conservatives. At worst, it epitomizes the peril of electing officials on anti-government sentiment — officials who seem determined to prove through example that government doesn’t work. I don’t care what your political views are; we have enough on our national plate without this self-righteous drama.

Good faith is what makes our governmental processes work. Landry should have attended the meeting without hesitation. And if Obama refused to entertain Landry’s input, then Landry could at least say he tried, and could appeal to voters on those grounds. Instead, he decided to 1) make himself the center of attention by 2) proudly asserting his refusal to do his job and to interact with his co-workers, either of which by itself deserves scorn.

The saving-tax-money excuse was rich, too. Isn’t it more wasteful to pay someone a congressional salary to do nothing than it is to foot a trip to D.C. where he might accomplish something? Not from what I hear, apparently.

Landry’s stunt may be just the motivation I need to hit the polls when election time comes around again. Or maybe I’ll just follow his example and stay home, complaining about how making a difference doesn’t matter. Add that salary, and it’s all good.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Man bites: The fetish cheese that is Twilight

In a 12-hour span yesterday, I went from being blissfully ignorant of the Twilight saga to having seen two of the three movies (New Moon and Eclipse). It's not my fault, I promise.

Bravo to Hollywood for thinking outside the box on these movies. Typically, producers of mainstream motion pictures insist that their products have elements that appeal to diverse demographics; this is why virtually every awesome action movie hiccups with romance and toys, and why Sex and the City has “sex” right there in the title. Because it’s impossible to appeal to literally everyone, attempts to do so usually do a disservice to the final product.

Well, the Twilight saga has none of that. It’s targeted to women the way restaurants calculate the perfect balance of salt, sugar and fat to make your entree delicious. The movies play so perfectly to a variety of feminine emotions that watching them is like taking a multivitamin for the soul. Or maybe narcotics for the soul.

Every close-up of Edward lasts 37 minutes. Jacob never wears a shirt, because why would he? Bella’s angsty angst shines through even when she isn’t in the same country as the scene unreeling. In the name of love, lust and emotional conflict, amen.

The Twilight series, at its core, is a soap opera. I spent many a childhood summer afternoon watching soap operas with my grandmother, and even then I noticed a disconnect between the drama on screen and the relative banality of my daily life. At some point, I asked, “Why are their lives so dripping with conflict?” I imagine this happened soon after I learned about the word “conflict.”

Granted, any good story has to have conflict. To paraphrase the teacher who taught me about conflict, you don’t want to hear a story about how someone had the best day ever.

True. Something like that would only ignite the angst within me.

On the other hand, I have the same issue with Twilight that I have with any Ayn Rand book or movie: the protagonists are often hard to relate to. And by that I mean, you root for their happiness and success, but it’s difficult to picture them ever having a happy or otherwise light moment. Bella, in particular, broods so much that I found myself looking forward to Edward and Jacob fighting with each other, because at least that’s relatable. As cranky, snarky and cynical as I can be at times, I still have long stretches where life is normal and fun. Because who needs this kind of conflict swirling around you 24/7?

Which is why, over the course of watching the films, I created my own Twilight character: Jim. I introduced him in a scene where Bella, Edward and Jacob were together and the tension was smoldering like an appletini. The scene represented the classic choice that Bella must make, as does anyone torn between two loves: who to choose? It’s a loaded cinematic trope, one that keeps even casual fans on the edge of their seats. Indeed, any edge of any seat throughout the history of film. It gets to the very essence of the human condition.

Being me, of course, I wondered aloud, “Why are these drama-laden guys her only choices? Wasn’t there a Saved By The Bell episode where the girl rightfully chose neither?”

Enter Jim — a guy not only as ripped as Jacob and as appealing as Edward, but who also has the benefit of not being a bloodthirsty animal. He swoops in, takes Bella by the arm and says with an unreal level of charm, “Forget all this bestiality. Come with me!” Bella falls head over angst in love, and they live happily ever angst.

I’m not saying that would make a better movie, but it would be funny to me, at least.

But I do understand the appeal of the Twilight series: porn. It’s porn for hopeless-romantic women. That’s why the camera lingers over the men, and they show Bella only from the neck up. And why they talk so much about how they’re (mostly) over 18, in accordance with Section 18 U.S.C. 2257.

I’m fascinated, and pretty much always have been, with how pop culture depicts and dictates what makes a guy sexy. And I’m sure many of my fellow men can attest to how crummy it feels when that person looks and sounds nothing like yourself. So thanks, Edward and Jacob! And Justin Bieber!

And Savage Garden, while we're at it. “I’ll be your dream / I’ll be your wish / I’ll be your fantasy.” Man, that’s work! And work is for motorcycles.

Which reminds me...New Moon has a segment involving the rebuilding of motorcycles, with one shot of parts organized across a blanket. And for that brief moment, those parts were my Edward.

So ladies, Twilight away. But never forget, all of us guys have something special within us, even if we aren’t Robert Pattinson with sparkly scarecrow makeup or Taylor Lautner with bite-me abs. If nothing else, we’re real at least.

Grunt!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Weiner dogged

It’s been several months, if not years, since a political issue has outraged me as thoroughly as the scandal involving Rep. Anthony Weiner. As with most issues these days, no one is entirely right or wrong, and I have plenty of facepalming for all involved. But as you’ll see, I worry more about what this sort of exposé (no pun intended) means for the future of politics than for the immediate future of who has otherwise been a competent representative.

First things first...

• Weiner was dumb to do it. Conducting online affairs isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s dumb. Sending relatively tame, shirtless pictures of yourself and unidentifiable boxer-brief shots isn’t that horrible either, but it’s dumb. Denying it once confronted, only to have to the truth come out later, is dumb. And all that dumbness is multiplied by a factor of U.S. politician. So Weiner made a boner, so to speak.

However...

• The sanctimony is worse. Why should Weiner resign over this? We can all name members of Congress who have undertaken far, far worse transgressions and not only still serve, but are upheld by their particular party as paragons of family values! I’ve always said that I don’t care about any politician’s personal life, regardless of how I view them politically. What I can’t stand is when they specifically campaign (and win) as a moral crusader or otherwise as against something for which they get busted later. It further pisses me off when their constituents forgive them once they’ve been exposed as a hypocrite. And even further when those people turn around and project the same Christ-like strawman image on a politician they hate, without merit, just so they can tear him down.

If you’re going to forgive the family-values men for divorcing their wives like failed draft picks, or for allegedly visiting prostitutes, or for sex-chatting with underage male pages, then you can’t turn around and condemn a man for emailing slightly naughty pictures. Especially when that man is some virtue crusader only in your mind. If Weiner had vowed to crack down on “sexting,” had criticized other politicians for their sexual transgressions or otherwise did anything against someone’s will, then you might have a case. Otherwise, you’ll seem like a partisan hypocrite looking to tamp down on anything that will remove a good leader when there isn’t a whole lot to compel that.

• How low are we going to set this bar? If Weiner does resign, it’ll be because he finds himself in a hostile climate where he can’t get anything done for his district. And that will be because private correspondence between consenting adults got leaked for political purposes. In other words, it’s probably the lamest thing for which a politician ever got popped; for all the fallout, he might as well have had an actual affair, and a rowdy one at that.

Why? Why are grown, successful officials so eager to equate some photos (with no nudity or illegality involved) to a truly damaging act? And why do we, the public, continue to buy into people like Andrew Breitbart, pretending that he is something other than a third-rate performance artist out to blacklist Democrats through fourth-rate shenanigans?

Which brings me to a broader trend that I worry about probably more than anything else. With the advent of constant social networking, we’re increasingly scrutinous of people, whether as potential friends, employees, employers or politicians. At the same time, we’re increasingly judgmental of people’s actions. And I worry that the potentially greatest president of a future age is going to be sunk by a Facebook picture someone took of them while drunk. Scandals like Weiner’s only reinforce my view that this is getting more ridiculous.

It blows my mind to think how different we’d be as a country if Facebook and Twitter had been around when Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were in college. To say nothing of all the other baby boomers and previous generations. And yet, we got by, because the only difference between the human nature of the past and the human nature of today is that we had less in our face back then. And while transgressions abounded among all political stripes, we nonetheless had a sense of perspective about it. We let the irrelevant stuff slide so that the major infractions carried appropriate weight. We forgave our leaders (sometimes too much, granted) for certain indiscretions if they were representing us to our satisfaction; after all, that’s why we put them there in the first place.

I don’t want my elected officials making bad decisions and stupid moves. But I also don’t want an electorate filled with people who (to paraphrase George Clooney) have spent their entire squeaky-clean lives running for office. And I certainly don’t want a Congress split between milquetoast Democrats afraid to offend Breitbart types and who resign at the slightest accusation, and Republicans who get away with (metaphorical) murder. (Or vice versa.)

The Weiner incident is a preview of what future-generation scandals could look like, if we continue to apply our sanctimony equally to all infractions. And it won’t be confined to the political sphere, either. Let’s take this opportunity to look into ourselves and learn to keep our raging hypocrisy in our pants.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Intel, etc.

I often get phone calls from my mother that go something like this:

“Ian, quick, what’s 30 percent of 165?”

“Uh....hmmm....I have no idea, Mom.”

“Why not? You’re smart!”

“I’m not that kind of smart.”

“But you have a master’s degree!”

“Yeah, in English.”

“So? You can do whatever you want!”


I always laugh at these exchanges, because it’s true that I have a higher education and can always help her with grammatical questions. But I am stupid when it comes to math. Very, very stupid. And not the simple stupidity that comes from ignorance, but a complex stupidity wherein your advanced thought processes converge to give you what is almost the correct answer, but somehow is the wrongest answer possible.

This is why I always tip at least 30 percent. Because for all I know, it’s actually 10.

Intelligence is probably one of the most misunderstood qualities we assign to ourselves. What does it mean to be intelligent? I think everyone has a different answer to that question. For some, it’s all about credentials. For others, intuition. Still others chalk it up to life experience. My own answer would be a schizophrenic mix of all three.

(Sidebar: I see a difference between being intelligent and being smart. Anyone with a well-honed skill, or the aptitude to develop one, is intelligent. A lifelong auto mechanic can be a wizard in the garage, even if he has no formal education; his way with cars is a skill set that takes brainpower and experience. The same can be said of anyone in a specialized profession or pursuit. I define intelligence as the ability to learn and to function.

Being smart is a different animal. Smart is a higher level of rational thinking, the kind that compels people to strive in life and cleanses them of falsehoods and self-defeating mentalities. Plenty of intelligent people are not at all smart.)

The definition of intelligence encompasses a variety of things, but society tends to narrow it down to capitalism (probably because it’s so tangible). In both conversation and politics, we praise entrepreneurs, calling them the lifeblood of America. And they deserve accolades (at least, the ones who didn’t steal their ideas from someone else, though even then it takes a certain cunning to grow it into a moneymaker).

But many intellectuals have skills that will never make them one red cent. The vast majority of musicians and writers come to mind. Even small-business owners. In all of these cases, the exceptions (successes) prove the rule.

We often forget that intelligence is not always proportional to the zeros on our checks. This is why it’s so dangerous to base our economic policies on the blanket notion that the richest are the smartest and best people. Just as it’s wrong to assume intelligent people have to be good at everything, it’s wrong to assume intelligent people specifically strive for — and succeed in — the game of business (or any narrow field, for that matter).

A man I once worked for, a Gordon Gekko type, said he thought I could be a millionaire someday. But while I feel more than capable of accruing such wealth, I have little inclination to do so. I have never been one of those people who looks where the money is and then chases it. Some would say that’s not smart of me. But the only way I will ever make that much money is if someone offers it to me to do what I love. I'm creative more than I'm capitalist.

For years, my mom has asked me: “Why don’t you write the next Harry Potter?” By which she means, the next moneymaking literary sensation. (Yeah, really, why not, Ian?) The way I see it, though, specifically aspiring to that would most likely result in some overly calculated fiction that wouldn’t reflect my style and would get lost anyway under an avalanche of other books by authors trying to catch the same lightning. I’m better off being me and leaving that genre to the pros. Whatever the eventual financial outcome, I’ll at least know I was smart enough to stick to what I know and love.

Intelligence is not some monolithic characteristic limited to certain people and specific aspirations. At best, a truly intelligent person possesses an ability to adapt to multiple situations, to at least give the appearance that they always know the score.

In other words, they can bullshit their way through life.

And that’s a skill I think we all aspire to master.

What very loosely inspired this: Could Michael Jackson have created Twitter?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

I used to do something like this on MySpace

Good day, blog friends!

I'm busy writing so much stuff that I'm afraid I won't finish any of it. Here's what you can expect. Hold me to it!

• Advice for college graduates. From me. The world needs this.

• A piece on the nature of creativity. Or, why you should stop asking me to do math.

• Why guys like Justin Bieber and Robert Pattinson ruin it for the rest of us.

• A parody of a flier I found in Baton Rouge that makes a lot of false claims in the name of patriotism.

• Why Andrew Breitbart is a special kind of wiener.

If you're still craving your Ian fix (and who isn't), then enjoy my archives. There's at least one shirtless picture of me in there that could derail my political future (I was five, but STILL).

Have a great day!

Monday, June 06, 2011

A surgical approach to desperation

Last night, I found myself in a tense discussion about drug-testing for welfare recipients. The ACLU is challenging the Florida law concerning this, as if the nearly universal consensus on the issue needed any further reinforcement.

But as I’ve said before, I’m against drug-testing of welfare recipients — at least insofar as they’re the ones singled out. If the purpose is to ensure that none of our tax money goes into drug habits, then we should simply test everyone who receives any government aid. In this regard, it makes no sense to arbitrarily scream for this particular (and relatively small) group to go under scrutiny while not demanding it of other groups that receive far more money and pose greater immediate dangers to national interests if drugged.

But again, I’m not so naive as to believe that emotion and prejudice don’t play into it. In fact, I think they’re the driving motivators, and the funds-for-drugs argument is just a front.

As Americans, we love to demonize people in need by lumping them in with their outliers. We picture every AFDC recipient as some welfare queen who is allergic to work, drives an expensive car and lives high on the hog. Ronald Reagan made this image iconic in the 1980s; whether or not it was true, it became the default image for American public assistance. Ever since then, social programs have taken such a severe image slam that it rarely occurs to anyone anymore that people really need this kind of help.

This stigma keeps us from addressing the government-waste issue in a logical, practical manner. Instead, it’s become a pissing contest, pitting the confident streams of the self-declared productive class against the shy bladders of the poorest, who are that way because they are lazy, period.

You have to admit that it’s satisfying to be the one looking down on the downtrodden, because it puts you in the position of success. You’re the one who’s working hard, paying taxes and, by God, doesn’t rely on anyone else to make ends meet. “I’ve got mine, so why don’t you get yours? Fix that mental tic in your brain that compels you to rob, do drugs and engage in other risky behavior! I’d never even think of doing those things! Why? Because I’m industrious and filled with the can-do American spirit, let me tell you!”

This attitude, as I’ve heard endlessly, brings me to what divides the successful from the worst-off among us — not ambition or human nature, but luck. Desperation makes people do things that they would never do with a clearer mind. A lot of us think we’re better, when in reality many of us are simply too insulated to ever have to weigh the issue. But the thing about human nature is, it doesn’t discriminate over what class of human you are. All it cares about is survival.

A decade ago, I came up with what I call the surgery analogy: the idea that nothing is too repulsive when the alternative is worse. Prior to age 21, my only surgical experience involved getting two stitches in the back of my head when I was 6, and that was a painless outpatient procedure. But at 21, I found myself facing back surgery due to a severely blown spinal disc. The idea of full-on invasive surgery, with anesthesia and an overnight hospital stay (not to mention the resultant bill) abhorred me. That is, until the pain from my back and leg reached a level so intense that I couldn’t move or even stand up straight without excruciating agony.

(And believe me, few things are more painful than a pinched nerve. Certainly nothing I’ve ever experienced. Sciatica is especially evil because it shoots unimaginable pain through a completely healthy appendage — in my case, my right leg. When the pain relapsed in 2008, I couldn’t lie in bed without hearing the pain scream. Yes, it literally screamed in my head, like a loud concert rings in your ears afterward. And I didn’t even need surgery then.)

Up to that point, the idea of getting myself cut open seemed like a nauseating notion. Why go through that? What ever would compel me to agree to that?

With my back and leg pain, I got my answer. Suddenly, the idea of not eating or drinking after midnight, putting on a hospital gown, taking a combination of valium and morphine prior to full-on anesthesia, then conking out to have someone cut into my lower back didn’t sound so bad. In fact, it seemed like the most logical thing to do. Something to look forward to, even. Would I have objected before? Yes. Would I want to do it again once the pain was gone? Of course not. But at the time? Hell yes!

And I think the surgery analogy drives most desperate behavior. People who would otherwise never do so swiping bread from an abandoned store after a natural disaster wipes out everything they have and help has yet to come. Drug addicts who commit crimes to obtain enough currency for a fix. People who rely on government aid because it’s their last line of sustenance. And so on.

I doubt most of these people do it because they’re vile humans who like to commit crimes and/or bilk the government for kicks. That certainly doesn’t condone illegal behavior, but we have to understand it to combat it. Chances are, they’re not thinking straight because of hunger, drug addiction, poverty or lack of education. The answer is not to demonize these people (they certainly won’t vanish if we offer no support), but to get at the root of the underlying problems.

We as a nation need to make a much larger investment in public schools, so that everyone (regardless of neighborhood) has at least an opportunity at a substantial education. Then we need to have jobs. And have those jobs pay a living wage, so that they’re worth aspiring to. We need to stop treating drug use as a crime and start treating it as a disease. If we’re serious about our citizens being self-sufficient and productive, we have to work on shattering the crippling barrier of addiction, rather than just wagging our finger.

That might all seem obvious, but I’m not convinced given our political priorities that they’re even close to obvious. We have a long way to go toward removing our prejudices, self-righteousness and the primal need to punish from our policies.

I can see how this might be an unpopular idea. At least until the day when the pain becomes too great.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Aaaaand SCENE!

On Saturday, I was called back to the set of "The Daisy Chain" to reshoot the football footage that had been rendered (mostly) unusable due to a cinematography error. I jumped at the chance to turn in an even better, more seasoned performance as a faceless football player appalled by on-field urine hijinks.

Battling an ominously overcast sky, our second shoot went much faster than Friday's, wrapping up in a mere hour and a half. Once again, I wore number 40 as the football gods intended. As you might expect, there was some attrition and turnover among teams from one day to the next. Technically, that made me a veteran. In that capacity, I hyped up my team by shouting, "THERE'S NO TOMORROW, GUYS! LEAVE IT ALL ON THE FIELD!" Just like I'd said yesterday.

Thanks to a fine group of friends who paid a visit, I have some awesome snaps of the game-day action. Enjoy.

(All credit goes to Blaine Rohrbach and Rebecca Hinson for the fantastic pictures.)

Stretching out before taking the field, and absolutely not showing off.
The crane shot. Where you want to be when lightning strikes.
Waiting to bust some heads.
The director lays out the game plan. I'm either sweating or modeling.
Our kicker was new. He won the job because he sucked the least.
A run-through. We were supposed the kick it to the other side. Not mine. Number 22 red (right) is beelining straight for me. That whistle couldn't blow fast enough.
Our streaker streaks it up.
Ah, the camaraderie that ties a team of random actors together.
The director singles me out for praise and rounds up the cast so I can show them how it's done. No, not really. I just like to pretend that's what's going on here.
All right, fellas, back in your places! Employ no-huddle blocking!
On each take, the streaker performed more unpredictable antics. We were encouraged not to dodge so much as to mingle. 
Bottoms up! (Number 77 red, middle left, decked me on a previous play. He was so apologetic. I praised him for his commitment to the role. I ripped my sock on that play, as you'll see later.)
Another reaction shot. Some of us were asked to take off our helmets for maximum facial impact. On the final take, I jumped behind the streaker, yanked off my helmet and screamed/gestured for the refs to yank him off the field. I hope they use that one. (Did I mention I'm short?)
Hustling off the field. I like to think we won.
After the shoot wrapped, I gave an autograph in a very special...uh...well, I'm not posting that photo.

UPDATE: At my friend Kelli's insistence, I am posting that photo.

Not pictured: The very long line for this that kept me at the field until 1 a.m.