Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A good reason to maintain your car

When a mechanic tells you your car is in immaculate condition, they mean it.

They don't want to mean it. It's like someone at Best Buy saying, "We won't even try to upsell you because it's clear you know exactly what you want and exactly how to fix it." Or one of those overly aggressive salespeople at Sears who takes one look at you and says, "I'll bet your siding is just dandy."

As I've mentioned before, I'm one of those anal people who actually fills out the maintenance book on his car. I've never missed a service appointment, even though my car is six years old and I'm past the one-year anniversary of being poor. Yesterday, I got my 55,000-mile oil change and tire rotation. And as is always the case with my current car (which I bought new), the mechanics could clearly see that I wasn't going to be fooled into unnecessary repairs. 

This is in stark contrast to my previous vehicle, which constantly required expensive repairs that always seemed to come in pairs. "You need a new fuel pump ... see you next week when your hoses pop off!"

The lowlight of that era was when I went to see someone about my broken window tracks, and they told me the problem was a burned-out motor. I had hand cranks.

"No you don't," the guy told me with a straight face he should patent.

I never did get those windows fixed. For that reason, but also because it was funny to slide them up and down with suction cups.

We live in a society that upsells everything these days, from car repairs to books and everything in between and on the outer edges. Need is almost never part of the equation. So in keeping my car up to speed, not only do I gain the satisfaction of a reliable vehicle, but also the satisfaction of one of the most aggressive industries telling me, "Nah, you're good."

Good indeed.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Rules of rhetorical engagement

Some interesting developments have transpired in the days since I wrote the post “Can’t get no Lambo satisfaction” — namely, the subject of that post, Don Domingue, took interest in what I said. When I didn’t reply to his correspondence as quickly as he apparently wanted, he declared victory and said he was done with me.

After reading the Lambo entry, Don posted a link to it into the SB Nation thread, along with this commentary:

This is as polite as it got.
He e-mailed me personally to alert me to the comment. Later, he typed up a reply to my post that he deleted almost immediately thereafter. I won’t repost it here, because I agree with him that he should have thought twice about posting some of that. (CORRECTION — The comment wound up in my spam filter, which I discovered after he said he didn't delete it. It is now on the thread.) It reminded me of other times when someone made similar remarks, which I’ve dealt with both personally and as a representative of a publication. What these incidents have in common is that someone took rhetoric much farther than it needed to go. To paraphrase Tom Hanks in the SNL sketch where he must quell the disturbing impulses of the Mr. Belvedere Fan Club, it’s time again for our exercises.

The rules below apply not just to me or to Don, but to anyone unnecessarily agitated over some opinion writing they find in the press.

1) Pick your battles. The quickest way to look petty is to engage every critic you encounter. You come across as someone with misdirected passions; someone with way too much time; someone who has to win every argument, no matter how pointless; someone with an exaggerated sense of self-importance; or any combination thereof. If you must engage, engage with intelligence and discretion.

2) Make sure you haven’t wandered into the wrong debate. Not everyone who hates the color of a car (or wants higher taxes on the rich, etc.) is a jealous welfare leech. Tailor your response accordingly.

3) Let your argument stand for itself. Use facts. Make your case, ground it in rationality and otherwise do the best you can. Accept that some will agree and some will disagree. Accept that you may be proven wrong (and try to anticipate that as you go). Accept that there is a degree of dissension among thoughtful people. Don’t base your argument on who has the most zingers or who is cockiest, because you might find you’re the only one playing that game. Even if you win, you lose.

4) Find common ground. Not only does common ground humanize an opponent, but it underlies a primary purpose of debate: persuasion. When people are reminded that they’re more alike than different, amazing things can happen. That’s preferable to escalating volleys of useless sniping.

5) Take the opportunity to be better. One of the most devastating ways to tilt a debate is to snap preconceived notions. It can be as simple as conceding a point: “Yes, I was wrong about that.” Or, “That’s a fair point.” Or perhaps use a little-known tidbit about you that helps explain your stance: “I don’t want you to think I’m a monster. When I was a child, I skipped lots of meals because we couldn’t make ends meet. I vowed then that my adult life would be different. All I want is the opportunity to be able to do so.” If it doesn’t change minds, at least it will open them up. Taking the high ground is never a bad idea.

6) If you must insult, use relevant insults. I know it’s hard to imagine in such an ideologically divided age, but calling someone a “liberal” isn’t so devastating if they actually are one. “Socialist” also lands with a thud because actual socialism is a rare force in the U.S. (This works with opposing ideologies as well.) Overly broad stereotypes suggest not just ignorance, but laziness. A well-placed slam is unexpected and memorable. But, most importantly, it’s accurate.

7) Don’t physically threaten, even jokingly. “Fighting words” should stay metaphorical. This goes whether it’s anonymous bluster or claiming you’ll sic your neighbor — notorious for his anti-media tirades and his Mardi Gras assault on a local publisher’s daughter — on me. Or whoever, since this is purely hypothetical.

8) Don’t prove your opponent’s point. The best tip of all.

Am I perfect on all of these points? Of course not. But I strive. I hope Don, his critics and everyone else do the same, so that discourse in this country improves.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My social media biases

I’ve been asked a few times recently how to use certain forms of social media. There’s no catch-all answer, but over the years I’ve evolved a personal MO for each outlet that I use. As is fitting with evolution, these uses are subject to change and/or obsolescence. Here’s how it currently stands:


Blogging
Not Right About Anything is my outlet for the majority of my work. I like to comment on current events, as well as create cartoons, graphics and videos. I did such things long before the Internet was a thing to most civilians, so I find that having this platform works well for me. I treat it as a publication, giving its entries the most time, energy and review (even if it doesn’t seem like it sometimes). I recommend a blog platform to those with more to say than social networks allow, and who want a potentially wider audience. When I started this blog in 2004, social media had yet to catch fire, and it was frequently the center of my online communication. Direct feedback has trailed off considerably since then, but the focus of content has changed little in nine years.


Advice: Blogs are an involved form of social media. If you find yourself writing a lot, it might be useful. If you’re into shorter prose, or want to share with just a handful of people, Facebook and Twitter might be better.


Facebook
Currently, I use Facebook to make witty statues to make friends laugh, and/or share personal details that I’m comfortable to share with my friends, relatives, co-workers and former bosses. When I first signed on in 2005, Facebook was exclusively a college site. As the status feature evolved and the site’s reach expanded to everyone, I wrote less about politics and other controversial topics and became more neutral, not to mention more careful in my words. I’m still funny, though, I like to think. Given the site’s reach, I find myself perhaps most mindful as to what I say and share there than anywhere else.


Advice: Chances are you’re on Facebook already. If somehow you’re not but are curious, it’s probably the best place to start online.


Twitter
I was a relative latecomer to Twitter, joining in 2010. I demurred for awhile, because I frankly wasn’t impressed with 140 characters; I’m not known for brevity. Anyway, everything I heard about Twitter suggested that it was an even more insipid version of the old MySpace bulletin board. But it grew on me, and now I like it very much. It allows me to toss off one-liners to an instant audience, as well as see an amazing cross-section of live-tweets from other people. And not just friends, but athletes, actors, politicians, professors, pundits, scientists, businesses and publications. It’s where I, like millions of Americans, first learned of Osama bin Laden’s death. I like also that I can share my links to a different audience than the blogosphere and Facebook. And that I can live-tweet events in a way that is less annoying to followers than it used to be on Facebook. This also helps tremendously in the frequent instances that I regret tweeting something. Additionally, I often test out blog ideas in their infancy on Twitter, and sometimes participate in memes that later become rich blog fodder (such as Aged Bands and Rejected Olympic Events).


Advice: Twitter is terrific even if you choose to never tweet. Follow the right people — they don’t have to follow you back, another bonus — and you might feel like you’re in the coolest town square anywhere. If you do tweet, you’ll learn the art of being short and concise. That’s useful to everyone.


Google+
I’m on it, but I don’t use it very much. I feel like if it predated Facebook, nobody would have ever heard of Mark Zuckerberg. Google+ has video chat, which I’m amazed hasn’t caught on like it should; after all, weren’t TV phones always representative of the future? The future is here, friends. I may use this more in the future when I move away again. That remains to be seen.


Advice: If you’re into video hangouts and smaller Facebook-type circles, look no further. But if you want to find me, I’m more likely to be elsewhere. I could see myself using this more if I became semi-famous or otherwise sought out for some reason.


MySpace
I never especially cared for MySpace, and I signed on in late 2006 only because it filled in the friend gaps that Facebook did not yet reach. Having blogged for two years already and being used to the clean, HTML-friendly stylings of Facebook, the garish frames of MySpace and the nickname system seemed juvenile by comparison. But for a couple of years, it served its own niche for me. I blogged very personal entries, the kind of things that I wanted only my close circle of friends to see. I also used it for a few months as a weekly aggregate of my Not Right blog entries (not that anyone cared). Later, the bulletin board became a must-read. But it died out quite suddenly when Facebook opened its virtual doors to everyone, leaving MySpace to become a ghost town of Mafia Wars players and spammy friend requests. I still have a profile, but mainly because I’ve been dragging my feet about saving the photos that I don’t have anywhere else. With the site’s new redesign, I may have to get on that pronto.


Advice: If you’re into music, MySpace might be worthwhile. But its relevance as a social network is long over.


LinkedIn
I hear a lot about LinkedIn as an indispensable business tool. In my experience, it hasn’t been as productive as I initially thought. But that’s because I don’t work in a particularly corporate field. For those who do, it seems to serve a considerable purpose. Obviously, it’s the kind of site where you put your best face forward, much less conducive to the casual vibe of other online networking. Also, they make you pay for a better experience, which I currently don’t. As it currently stands, I have my résumé out there and a handful of connections, mostly with people with whom I’m connected elsewhere.


Advice: Check out LinkedIn, especially if someone with whom you’d like to network is active there. Creative types might find it less fruitful. And unlike the other sites I use, money talks there. 


E-mail
I always enjoy getting real e-mail that isn’t Facebook notifications, mailing lists or ads for C1al1s. So drop me a line.


Advice: You have it. Come on!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Can't get no Lambo satisfaction

So there’s this man from Lafayette who adorned his gold Lamborghini with purple stripes to show his support for LSU. The Independent linked a piece from SB Nation about it, with a note to check out the comments; apparently, the owner was getting a lot of hate, which I assumed would be in the form of a UL vs. LSU, “How dare you do that in Lafayette?” kind of thing.

Boy, was I wrong. This two-way row was much more interesting.

Anybody who’s ever written anything on the Internet knows that someone, somewhere, will troll you. You can write about how much you love puppies and some spoilsport will ask where you get off on promoting rabies. It’s practically a given. Most of the time, it isn’t worth dignifying with a response.

But that’s exactly what the subject of the article did. Lots and lots and lots of times. And what started as a debate on the style/gaudiness of the car became an elaborate deconstruction of everything that’s pitiful about people with too much money to spend, too little empathy for others and endowed with a strong need to have the last word.

To be fair, the people attacking him are juvenile at times and, like the man himself, are better off just ignoring the whole thing. But the guy does himself no favors with his reactions. I’m not going to taunt my OCD by citing and parsing the best quotes that the car’s owner makes to commenters, because there are entirely too many; take a look for yourself. But I will note that one of the first responses he makes to a critic is to ask the critic about his own theoretical Lamborghini. In other words, call me back when you’re consuming at my level, then I’ll care what you have to say.

Not this again.

A very prevalent attitude in Louisiana — one that, possibly more than anything else, has me pining strongly for blue-state pastures — is the obnoxious flaunting of wealth. Many rich people in the South tend to have little to no humility when it comes to vast riches. As the state’s love for chemicals and disdain for regulations and education attest, we’re a business state where quality of life is strictly secondary. As is often said, toxic waste smells like money to us.

Consequently, the prevailing attitude is, if you’ve got it, flaunt it; if you don’t, then obviously you’re a welfare-gorging leech. Not to mention jealous as hell, which incentivizes the haves to double down on their having. They cannot fathom anyone having other goals in life, such as creating art or music, or simply earning a decent standard of living — winning the toy race is all that matters, so why shouldn’t one be unabashedly arrogant about their conspicuous consumption?

You get the impression that if these people were an undefeated football team, they’d scream around town in Hummers, slapping teddy bears out of little girls’ hands while shouting, “Yeahhhh!! We’re 16-0, fools! Aren’t you jealous of me? If you are, maybe you should form your own team and go 16-0, little girl!” Meanwhile, the kids are crying because the players made short work of the only thing they have.

No one likes a sore winner, especially when no one else is playing the game.

But I digress. Back to the Tiger car.

I can live with the flaunting part. It’s not my style (not that I’m in danger of having much to flaunt), but I accept that it is for some. And even though I’m a fan of fuel-efficient cars and am not a big LSU fan, I think the Tiger car is pretty cool. Above all, a person is expressing himself as he chooses and no one’s getting hurt. I dig that no matter how someone chooses to do it.

What irritates me (and everyone else on the thread) is not his car or his wealth, but his condescending attitude. He thinks everyone is jealous of him, and by the time he gets to blabbing about Obama and socialism, it’s clear he’s flailing to box everyone into his reality. But arguments like his land with a thud for people like me because I don’t want what he has. I’d be happy with a job that allows me to pay my bills and otherwise be a responsible person. Otherwise, I have everything I want. People like this guy don’t get that, just like they don’t get how their arrogance hurts us all. Including themselves.

They don't criticize him because they're jealous, but because he insists that they must be.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

They're just asking for this

For the past two days, this hashtag has been trending on Twitter:


I hijacked it a couple of times, as people tend to do with hashtags. But when I got to one idea of mine, I decided to stop. I was going to say something like, "BENGHAZI! "

But then I remembered Poe's Law, and I have a reputation to protect. 

Seriously, check out that hashtag link. It proves, in spades, my longstanding theory that conservative political humor cannot be funny. Not only is it excessively mean, it's like they picked buzzwords off a partisan list and saladed them together (which is what most right-wing humor is). The most common joke is about how bullets are faster than a police call, which wasn't funny the first time.

Also, it's incredibly degrading toward women. Not to mention, based on false outrage toward a comment that everyone knows wasn't misogynist — but for which Joe Salazar apologized anyway — for which conservatives apparently thought they'd put him in his place by being 10,000 times more sexist, vicious and bloodthirsty than he ever was.

George Carlin once said rape could be funny. But his bit mocks the "Eh, she was askin' for it" mentality. He didn't joke about rape — he ripped those who make excuses for rape.

I'm sure the GOP will solve its woman problem any day now.

A dream not worth following

I was playing for the Saints and they lost after blowing a huge lead, in part because I was burned for a long touchdown by a wide receiver. After the game, I walked with my helmet and shoulder pads to a waiting car. The car was being driven by my cousin, with his wife riding shotgun, and my brother in the backseat. We started talking and the conversation steered to where I went wrong — at which point the conversation switched from dream football to my real-life struggles. I began to explain some fact and got cut off, upon which I slammed my helmet/pads into the car by the facemask and yelled, “Fine, you don’t want to hear what I have to say yet again? Then fuck it, I’m finished talking to you ... No, I didn’t interrupt you this time, you interrupted me ... Goodbye.” I stormed off, immediately realizing this was going to be awkward when I had to get back in the car. My brother rolled down his window and said, “I left some chocolate on the shelf for you.” I turned to the shelf that was suddenly there and ripped open a bag of dark chocolate. That’s when I noticed that the nutrition label noted one gram of trans fat. I sighed and put it back. “At least he tried,” I said to myself.

I walked on over to a party to which I’d been invited. Was it ever a star-studded gala, featuring a wide variety of well-known comedy stars and other celebrities. It was a private thing in someone’s New York City apartment, just famous people hanging out. I sat next to Bill Murray, who shared my uncouth eating habits, and everyone else watched the action at our table. I didn’t take any pictures, instead soaking in my good fortune. Everyone there treated me as one of them, and I felt like I belonged. I recall saying something pretty funny about Bill’s slurping of his tacos, which got a decent laugh from the crowd. But then Bill added something so funny that everyone — including myself — roared over.

Just as I took a huge bite of taco, a young guy sitting next to me asked, “So you’re like a big comedy writer, right?” I pointed with my index finger as I finished my bite. He gave a look of impatience, and my bite didn’t seem to be getting any smaller. Finally I swallowed it, and as he was standing up to leave, I grabbed him by the lapels and said, “No, actually I’m unemployed! I am a writer, though.” It came out more squeaky and desperate than I meant it to sound. Suddenly a gruff old man with a mustache, he retorted, “There are 200 others like you in this town.” “I know,” I replied with resignation. “Anyway,” he continued, “You have to fill out 154 pages of tax forms to get work.” To which I countered, “I’d rather fill out 154 pages of forms than be one of the 200.” He nodded, at which point everyone simultaneously got up and headed for the exits. “Are you coming to the after-party?” he asked, almost threateningly. “Yes sir,” I replied, “Just let me finish this last taco and wash my hands.” He nodded with some hesitation, as if I’d said the wrong thing. I finished off the taco in a few seconds, washed my hands in the restroom sink aaaaand — they were all gone. They’d even turned out all the lights.

Just then, I realized that I’d left my relatives in the car on a bad note. Hopefully they’d still be waiting and I could make amends. But they were gone too. And so was everything on the shelf.

Then I woke up, convincing myself with some success that none of that had actually happened.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Discouraged

The more you need to get away from it all, the harder it is to do it.

It's like a whole other country?

So I hear Louisiana is refusing to comply with the REAL ID Act, the legislature having made an official proclamation of such in 2008. This is especially relevant now because, as of Jan. 15, 2013, airports and some federal buildings require compliant ID for admission.

Which means that, technically, a Louisiana driver's license is no longer sufficient ID to board a flight (though there's been a six-month extension for now). Some officials are recommending that residents who want to fly should obtain a U.S. passport.

I've never been a fan of REAL ID, and I've been meaning to get a passport for years anyway. But if REAL ID is the new national standard, then states shouldn't be stubborn about adopting it. Passports are expensive — last I checked, $75 plus pic — and you have to wait two weeks for it to arrive. That's a cruddy deal for someone who isn't traveling internationally and already dropped money for a state ID. I'm irritated with the state's hostility toward the federal government on a good day, let alone when its showboating causes unnecessary hassle.

Furthermore, I only heard of this through a tiny news blurb in an old newspaper I was throwing away. How many unlucky Louisianans will find out when trying to board the plane? That could prove devastating if, like I expect to do, they're flying to a job interview in another state. One that perhaps isn't beelining toward the Third World in terms of education, economics and mortality.

No wonder we'll need the passport.

Friday, February 15, 2013

My brief stint as a Beautiful Creature

The new film Beautiful Creatures opened in theaters nationwide yesterday. If it's anything like the book, it should be a pretty solid story.

But I know what you're thinking: "This movie is great and all, but it would be even better with Ian in it." Well, you're in luck! I worked for several weeks on the set from May to July 2012, and it was a blast. Sometimes literally.

So when you go see Beautiful Creatures this weekend, cut out this handy guide to my scenes. Just try to console yourself in the non-Ian scenes with all the other great actors with lines and story arcs and clearly defined faces and whatnot.


Some production notes:

CHURCH FUN

• For my soldier wardrobe fitting, they took several pictures of me in partial costume. One had me holding up a sign, mug shot-style, that read, “Ian McGibboney, Union.” Part of the costume was period hairstyles and facial hair, the former which I don’t have and the latter I barely ever have. Two days before, they tipped me off to stop shaving, which I did. When they saw me face to face, a woman immediately said, “come back clean-shaven. We’ll have fake hair for you.”

• We had a full afternoon devoted entirely to weapons training. You know how I am about guns; the session went as well as you'd expect. Still, I faked it enough to get by. And sometimes the rifle even fired when I pulled the trigger!

• My first day of actual shooting started badly. I'm not sure if I got lost on the drive to Covington, but I know that by the time my long line made it to wardrobe, I was boiling with rage (probably due to the early call time and my inability to sleep at night). I tried not to show it, though I'm told I'm bad at that. It didn't help that they rejected all of the outfits I brought (which never happens) and gave me a yellow, V-neck shirt (which wasn't even supposed to be a color we could wear). Between that and the ill-fitting slacks and dress shoes they made me wear in the overcast humidity, I was doomed to feel like ugly crud for the next two days. But it turned out to be fun.

"When you look good, you feel good" — someone else
• The first scene I shot took place in a church in Covington. I sat on the left, about four rows from the back. Sitting next to me was a friend I'd met on American Horror House, Sarah, and behind were friends of hers (a retired, married couple) whom I've since gotten to know pretty well. My fake girlfriend from AHH, a Lisa Kudrow doppelganger, stood against a wall nearby. If she recognized me, she didn't show it, which suggests to me that she's very good at pretending to be my ex-girlfriend.

• At one point, Sarah and I worked out a routine where we were a couple. The unit director asked the men to cringe/look guilty at the line where we're accused of cheating on our wives when we were out "re-enacting." We ran with it, deciding I'd look at her guiltily and she'd smack me gently on the back of the head. During one take I botched up our cue badly, and she gave me hell for it. Mad at myself, I whispered to her angrily, "I fucked up, OK?!! I know!" She was rightfully shocked, and I immediately felt bad. But she got me back good. After a short break, we took another take. I got the cues right. When it came time for her to slap me, she smacked me HARD! I think it echoed. Post-take, I said, "I had that coming," and we laughed. We still laugh about it.

• Our main role in the scene was to look astonished and horrified when Jeremy Irons enters the room, because we're a closed-minded town and he's THE DEVIL!!

• We filmed the scene over two consecutive days. As many movies as I've done since then, I never get over how perfectly a crew can assemble the same several hundred people, wearing the exact same clothing, in the exact same seating arrangement across two days.

• I also find it find fascinating to watch a scene unfold. In the church scene, we could only hear part of Jeremy Irons' and Emma Thompson's dialogue, since it occurs at the front of the church. I caught enough to notice that they added political and pop culture references to the conversation that aren't in the book.

• At one point it rained, which meant the extras had to hang out under a nearby porch, collectively going wild like kids on a field trip. This only intensified when a production assistant announced to us that we were getting a wet bump. (A "wet bump" in film parlance is extra pay due to the inconvenience of rain. Yes, it does sound like something else entirely.) While we were there, someone filmed me dancing a jig. No, I don't have it. Anyway, there are limits to what I post here!

• We also had plenty of downtime in the holding tent, as is usually the case with background actors. A bunch of us became friends and hung out and did stuff with things. This guy built a house of cards. His cards were suspiciously sticky, but I still couldn't build one like that.


The pic below is of our core crew, most of whom I remain friends with in real life, Facebook and/or Words With Friends:

We're all sweating, except Jamie, who apparently doesn't.
• One the first night of filming, I brought my overnight kit but wound up driving home to Baton Rouge. The second night, I didn't bring it, and I wound up staying overnight. I spent the night in a hotel room with two of the extras and one of their mothers (herself an extra). We swam and ate pizza and talked about the biz. I remember thinking, "My life isn't so bad." Well, sometimes it's not.

LIKE A TRUE SOLDIER

• Weeks later, it was time to shoot the battle scene. This one was less fun, though it might be the most authentic film/war experience I'll ever have.


• I spent nearly an hour and a half in line for makeup. And boy, did they ever make me up! In addition to gluing muttonchops in my face (the one for which I'd been fitted the previous month), but the guy also painted and sprayed my face, neck and hands to look as grungy as a Civil War soldier would be. He did a fantastic job; I felt dirty the rest of the day.


• Farmland on a plantation in St. Francisville doubled as the Civil War battlefield (very well). We played re-enactors who find ourselves actually fighting the battle. This being a zillion-dollar production, we had fully authentic muskets that we actually loaded with blanks and fired under the guidance of real weapons experts and real re-enactors. Also, the double-wool outfits were period authentic down to the underwear and the canteen from which I was desperate enough to actually drink. Did I mention it hot as hell and I nearly fainted? (A re-enactor told me someone always does at these things.) We spent tons of downtime lying prone in the shade at the edge of the field in between takes, looking very much like the Confederacy won the war.

• Oh, about that: many of the soldiers, virtually all of whom were local, actually complained about having to fight for the Union. When I jokingly said, "Go Union!", there were actually sneers and grunts. "I wish they'd put me in Confederate gray," I heard one guy say. Ah, the South.

• We took a bus to and from the set from the holding tent in full costume and carrying our muskets. It was hard not to laugh at one of the most surreal sights I have yet to personally witness.

• Despite being fake-real-fake-real, we faced some very real potential danger out there. (Our regiment leader reminded us that if any of us felt like our safety was in doubt, save ourselves: "Don't worry about their fucking movie.")

Besides the twin perils of dehydration and heatstroke, we also learned that there would be real explosions. One of those explosions, which can be seen in the trailers, hurt my ears and rained sawdust all over my face. Also, despite being warned not to aim our rifles straight but upward (especially the guys behind my front row), someone shot their blank straight ahead behind someone's head. That person wasn't hurt, but it did lead to our commander yelling at that person. No one slipped up after that. (Incidentally, that particular take for me was the awesomest.)

• Our commander requested that some of us fall as if we were shot. Turns out that those who did got to lay there for the rest of the day while the rest of us hoped we wouldn't step on them without looking. I'm not sure who got the worst of the deal there.

• Because our regiment was on the edge of the scene, the commander joked that we'd have to look good to get in the shot. The regiment in the middle got to do better acting, falling like dominoes with a wave of a woman's hand. Also a guy yelled to her, "I can't protect you here!" Another great scene I got to watch live.

• Did I mention there was no bathroom on location? We had to piss on the fence in full view of everyone. War is hell. At least they brought bananas and Cheez-Its.

DRIVING CRAZY

• My third and final foray into fake South Carolina was as a background driver. I took my car to St. Francisville and then waited. A really long time. And by that I mean, six hours parked on the side of the road. In the rain.

Wearing a shirt I know fits stringent background rules for color and style. I've worn it in at least three films.
• At one point, the director and star Alice Englert walked right past my car as I hung out the window like a dog. Not that either cared, but I felt self-conscious.

• The guy behind me, who drove a Prius, forgot to turn off his headlights and killed his battery. He asked me to jump-start it, during which I discovered that 1) jumping a Prius battery requires only one terminal and 2) it starts instantly and is fully charged within a second. Just another reason those cars rock.

• I eventually got to drive my car back and forth on camera in the distant background of this scene (at 00:26). But my real break (in my mind) came later, when they needed an emergency stand-in for star Alden Ehrenreich; both he and his double were filming at the time. The PA decided the back of my head looked the most like his of the drivers ("Everyone else is either too old-looking or too bald," he said), and so they tapped me to drive Ethan Wate's Crown Victoria.

There were two identical cars on set. This is one of them. This is not my driving.
• My duty was to drive the Crown Vic into a wooded path. With me in the backseat was a last-second double for Englert (who is supposed to be 16 but was 45). I had a walkie-talkie like the pros do and did my thing. I probably drove four times, stalling out twice (the car, which was shockingly a 1991, was in poor shape and had no seat belts). But I did the job. Afterward, a crew member drove us back to set in the car with no seat belts and a prop plate. I felt oddly proud of this scene.

• During filming, I read the book, which tops 500 pages. Don't let anyone tell you it's like Twilight; the only similarity is in the demographic. This one's much better.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Marco Rubio SNL sketch

VOICEOVER:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will now deliver the Republican rebuttal to the State of the Union address.

TARAN KILLAM as MARCO RUBIO:

[Unblinking, unsettling stare at camera]

Good evening. I’m Marco Rubio. I’m blessed to represent Florida in the United States Senate. Let me begin by congratulating President Obama on the start of his second term. Tonight, I have the honor of responding to his State of the Union address on behalf of my fellow Republicans.

The State of the Union address is always a reminder of how unique America is. For much of human history, most people were trapped in stagnant societies, where a tiny minority always stayed on top, and no one else even had a chance. But America is exceptional because we believe that every life, at every stage, is precious, and that everyone everywhere has a God-given right to go as far as their talents and hard work will take them.

[Scratches face]

Like most Americans, for me this ideal is personal. My parents immigrated here in pursuit of the opportunity to improve their life and give their children the chance at an even better one. They made it to the middle class, my dad working as a bartender and my mother as a cashier and a maid. I didn’t inherit any money from them. But I inherited something far better – the real opportunity to accomplish my dreams.

[Wipes face]

This opportunity – to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life – it isn’t bestowed on us from Washington. It comes from a vibrant free economy where people can rithk their own money to open a buthineth. And when they thuctheed, they hire more people, who in turn invetht or thpend the money they make, helping otherth thtart a buthineth and create jobth.

[Wipes mouth]

Presidenth in both partieth – from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan – have known that our free enterprithe economy is the thource of our middle clath prothperity.

[Wipes sweat into mouth]

But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems. That the economic downturn happened because our government didn’t tax enough, thpend enough and control enough. And, therefore, ath you heard tonight, his tholution to virtually every problem we fathe is for Wathhington to taxth more, borrow more and —

[Reaches over, grabs bottle of water and takes sip]

— spend more.

This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small – it’s just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies. And the idea that more taxes and more government spending is the best way to help hardworking middle class taxpayers – that’s an old idea that’th failed every time it’th been tried.

[Grabs Kool-Aid pitcher and takes big sip]

Now does this mean there’s no role for government? Of course not. It plays a crucial part in keeping us safe, enforcing rules, and providing some security against the risks of modern life. Ugh.

[Grabs bottle of whiskey and takes swig]

Mr. President, I still live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in. My neighbors aren’t millionaires. They’re retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. Republicans have offered —

[Takes toke off joint]

— a detailed and (cough) credible plan that helps save Medicare — (Whispers off-camera) You better give me another one for this —

[Takes second toke]

without hurting today’s retirees. Whoa.

Of course, we face other challenges as well. We were all heartbroken by the recent tragedy in Connecticut.

[Bends over to get fake glycerin tears]

We must effectively deal with the rise of violence in our country. But unconthtitutionally undermining the Thecond Amendment rightth of law-abiding Americanth ith not the way to do it.

[Grabs wad of cash marked “NRA”, clears throat]

Despite our differences, I know that both Republicans and Democrats love America. I pray we can come together to solve our problems, because the choices before us could not be more important. If we can get our economy healthy again, our children will be the most prosperous Americans ever. And if we do not, we will forever be known as the generation responsible for America’s decline.

[Ducks out of habit, nothing happens; returns upright]

Thank you for listening. And live from New York, it’s Saturday night!

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Comfort Zoning Violation

It wasn't one of my New Year's resolutions, but I lived dangerously Saturday night. 

A friend I've known for 12 years (and occasionally casually dated) came into town this week to enjoy Mardi Gras with her brother and old friends. She just got her doctorate in Georgia and is on her way to Colorado with hopes of getting a job. (Maybe I should try that too...)

We met up at the Krewe of Bonaparte parade in Lafayette and, afterward, headed to the Mardi Gras Fair. I had some money so I bought us both tickets. She and her friends (one of whom was also named Ian) immediately salivated over the most hardcore rides.

Now here's something you should know about me. I'm an adrenaline junkie. I love moving fast (such as on a bike), swinging (such as on a swing) and plunging down a steep incline (like a huge slide). Despite my fearless gangsta persona, however, I'm a total wuss when it comes to carnival rides. I didn't ride a Ferris Wheel until my mid-20s, and haven't ridden anything that goes sideways since the infamous Typhoon incident of 1994, where my girlfriend, cousin and half of my 8th-grade class saw me scream in horror and afterward laughed as I couldn't stand up for 20 minutes (and also my lower back swelled up). 

Also, baby roller coasters freak me out as much as the real thing.

Nevertheless, my friends talked me into riding two rides whose names escape me (though "Vertigo" comes to mind). One is a Tilt-A-Whirl-type thing whose track tilts to nearly 90 degrees; the other is a version of the big swing ride that rises and dips. I chickened out of both — invoking my typical bad-back excuse that sometimes works — but wound up riding them. I'm glad I did, because they turned out to be pretty fun after the fact.

As the swing ride began to rise to my increasing horror, my friend said something like, "It's good to get you out of your comfort zone, Ian." To which I replied in my best John Candy whine, "What's wrong with my comfort zone? It gives me comfort! Why are people always trying to get me out of it?"

After surviving the ride — and liking it more than I should — I was feeling pretty good about going 2-for-2 on not flaking out. So I picked the next ride, the Scrambler. Even though I bruised a rib the last time I rode one, that ride was well within my comfort zone.

Well, after two speedy rounds for the price of one on it (thanks a lot!!), I felt as if I was going to vomit my ab muscles and crap out my intestines. For hours afterward, everyone who saw me said I didn't look too good. I didn't vomit, but I still feel like holy hell nearly three days later.

So much for the comfort zone, huh?

I've learned two things from this. One, what gets you isn't always what you expect. Two, that I can never again attend a carnival with anyone who reads this, lest I find myself in that bouncy bungee ball.

Ow, my back.

Feeling popeless

So Pope Benedict XVI has heeded Bill Maher's ironically biblical advice to "Turn! Turn! Turn!" instead of holding his lifetime appointment until death.

Now is the perfect time for the Catholic Church to consider a different kind of pope. Maybe one from one of the other five populated continents (or at least, farther-flung Europe). Maybe one who isn't in his eighties. Maybe one who really wants to improve the church rather than weave a prettier rug with more space underneath to sweep the problems. 

I know that's not going to happen. But in times like these, there's always that glimmer of hope.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Offer their rocker

Well, my professional prospects seem to finally be turning around!

They say you should pursue every avenue and leave no stone unturned when looking for a job. Well, I certainly remained true to that advice by digging into my spam folder. I’m glad I did, because this gem of an opportunity nearly escaped my clutches:

From: Xcheck
To: AOL

(That’s not my name but, eh, everyone gets Ian wrong.)

Subject: Creative work

(I do like creative work! How did you guess?)

Hello

We have reviewed your resume on the website of employment.

(The website of employment is the finest page on the world wide of web.)

FMP Management LLC. has an open Customer Manager position.

(Creativity oozing from every pore already. Slow down!)

If you would like a brilliant career in a fast-paced setting with a variety of activities and responsibilities, we would like to hear from you.

(My résumé keywords of “career,” “activities” and “responsibilities” are clearly reaping dividends. That website of employment sure had some terrific tips!)

Ideally we are looking for someone who is a fast learner, easy to talk to, and attentive to details.

(Finally, an outlet for those skills!)

DUTIES:
- Providing our clients with the support

(Eww!)

- Responding to clients requests regarding construction work, financing, maintenance, repairs, and appraisals and needs in a timely manner

(But clearly their clients’ requests for grammar will go ignored.)

- Coordinate appointments to show homes to prospective buyers
- Inspect condition of premises, and arrange for necessary maintenance or notify owners of maintenance needs.
- Accompany buyers during visits to and inspections of property, advising them on the suitability and value of the homes they are visiting.

(Creatively, of course, in the same creative way they described a real estate agent without once calling it that.)

REQUIREMENTS:
- High School graduate or equivalent.
- Good communication skills, both written and oral
- Organizational and time management skills required.
- Skills or experience with PC, including E-mail, Word and Excel processing;

(Also, absolutely no sense of skepticism.)

We offer company, competitive salary - usd 2,800 per month (taxes included), excellent benefits, and an opportunity for growth.

(How refreshing to know that I will be paid in U.S. dollars, or “usd” as all on-the-level job offers specify.)

If you are interested please e-mail your resume to [A FREAKING HOTMAIL ADDRESS!!]

(Please reply by Oct. 15, 1998 ... no, wait, not even in 1998 did any major firm use Hotmail addresses in an official capacity...)

Regards,
Hire Manager George L. Bowers
Hire Department of FMP Management LLC.

(Guess after reading this, the Fire Department of FMP Management LLC. will jump on me...)

My trains sure run on time

Looking back on my life so far, I'm surprised how neatly it divides into different eras. Even more striking is how virtually all of it is in two- and four-year chunks:


I certainly didn't it plan it this way, nor does it feel as static — sometimes four years flies by; other times, two years feels like an eternity. (And it should go without saying that some overlap exists, most notably with freelance jobs and the seven years I worked with the UL track team.)

The common thread in all of these chapters is that they each had a natural end point. Obviously, this is true of school, but it's also unfortunately been the case with my post-college, full-time jobs. To paraphrase Doc Brown, four years could very well be the temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum! Or, it could just be an amazing coincidence. 

Growing up, I never imagined I'd spend every two or four years bouncing around. Of course, I never really thought that far ahead. When I thought of adulthood, the job part was just sort of a given. Even after I learned what layoffs and cutbacks were, I never imagined they'd ever be a threat to me. And even when I graduated high school and was certain I wanted to get into journalism, I joked that no one ever cuts back the newsroom. In 1998, they didn't. No one ever talked about that then. Or that gaps in professional employment would become the new normal, a term which itself had yet to become a thing.

So I was wrong. But as far as being wrong goes, I'm not too upset that I didn't buy a house a month after graduation and stayed there. Seems I was more cut out for the schedule too many years of schooling burns into you. Never stop learning, kids!

Nevertheless, while I'm not someone to settle down for 50 years like my grandparents, or spend 40 years climbing the ladder like my mom (can anyone do either anymore?), I would like to break this overly predictable 4-2 trend with something really special.

Starting with the next, unwritten chapter, of course.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Depends on what you deem redeeming

I’m all about delving into stories and conversations that challenge my beliefs. So naturally, I found it very interesting to read about a woman who claims the Bible converted her from a “leftist lesbian professor” to a heterosexually married Christian.

This story is so perfect for its audience. It’s what they want so desperately to be possible. Even better, it stars who in their mind is the ultimate personification of villainy — a lesbian professor. We all know how radically liberal, feminist and godless they all are! Hell, she even calls herself “a leftist,” which is something all leftists do, am I right? And of course they all hate all Christians. Wow! How on Earth does someone with such deep-seated beliefs overcome them and see the light?

Well, a Christian was nice to her and she read the Bible. That was easy.

Frankly, I’m suspicious. In my experience, people don’t genuinely undergo such profound, polar transformations — when they do, they’re either overcoming denial (fantastic) or newly embracing it (tragic).

By her own account (noted elsewhere, notably not here), Rosaria declared herself a lesbian at 28. That strikes me as an awfully late age to ascertain one’s sexuality, or to finally own up to long-denied thoughts. And even rebellious people who go through a “phase” tend to experiment during their undergrad years. So either she always had lesbian tendencies and denied them for years (and is denying them again), or they were always disingenuous. One way or the other, she is lying about her true identity.

But OK, let’s say she isn’t.

Let’s imagine that everything in this testimony is absolutely true.

It still doesn’t speak well of the presented lesson. If someone’s inner morals, sexuality and politics are so flimsy that reading one book and talking to one person changes all of them, where’s the true transformation? There isn’t one; it’s simply a case of someone prone to change, changing yet again. In other words, remaining every bit as flawed and flimsy as they were before. Precisely the kind of loyalty you want on your wagon.

But OK, let’s say she did change.

Let’s imagine that this is indeed a case of someone truly redefining their morals and lifestyle.

Why on Earth is that a good thing? Is it true that only a heterosexual, conservative Republican is a good Christian? Why is the self-proclaimed religion of, “judge not lest ye be judged,” so obsessed with molding people into a single, narrow group? To remake them in God’s image? I’ve read much of the Bible, but I have yet to see where anyone looked, acted or thought like what American religious conservatives claim is the only way to be.

Far from uplifting, this story encapsulates exactly why I don’t align myself with these people. They falsely insist that innate behaviors can and should be changed, then trot out outlying examples that may or may not be honest — and do so while preaching peace, tolerance and unconditional love.

That’s not religion — that’s politics. Repellent politics.

And it's definitely not love.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Deep DO do

Buried in this article is a great point that I’ve tried to articulate for years: That the value of work should be far more than the sum of its parts and wages.

I’m not arguing that payment isn’t an important metric, or even the most important, when judging what is worthwhile work; after all, everyone likes to get paid. But if taken too far, it can lead to absurd perceptions:

“So what are you doing these days?”

“Playing music, making art, you know, chasing the dream.”

“I see. But what do you DO do?”

“DO do?”

“You know, what you really do. For money.”

“Oh, right. I sweep floors.”

“So you did finally land a job.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m so happy that you’re working!”

“I was working before.”

“Yeah, but now you’re WORKING working.”

“It’s tiring. Gives me little time for my music.”

“Well, the important thing is, you have a steady job.”

Yeah, that’s the important thing.

I have nothing against sweeping floors — someone has to do it, and sometimes, that someone’s been me. But we as a society do ourselves no favors by seeing someone who quits their creative pursuits for a dead-end, temp-type job as mature, or as a success.

Work is a complex beast. When I worked as a copy editor and as a reporter, I spent eight hours a day sitting in front of a computer, stroking keys, writing and editing. I’m not currently WORKING working, but I’m still sitting in front of a computer, stroking keys, writing and editing. The only difference is, I’m not making money at the moment. I’d argue that what I’m writing these days is more my style, but others might insist that I’m wasting my time.

If you asked me what I’m most proud of making, this blog would be right at the top of the list. Over nine years, it’s become a vessel for almost everything I create — writing, cartoons, graphics and videos. Having access to an instant and unlimited audience has given me the impetus to produce — in turn, writing daily for nine years has a way of flexing the brain. It’s practice that strengthens me for handling work that will count professionally.

And yet, indirect effects aside, I’ve never earned a dime from this blog. Sometimes I don’t even list it on my résumé, because one of two reactions typically happens: 1) it becomes a liability or 2) it’s considered inconsequential. Either way, I lose the chance to show off some of the work of which I’m most proud, because it’s never been “officially” published — never mind that it’s some of my sharpest stuff. I’ve actually been told at times that I don’t have enough writing experience. Well, if I have to dismiss 90 percent of my material right out the gate, yeah. To paraphrase what my friend said recently, that’s a hell of a body of work to discount just because I didn’t get a check for it.

Still, “blogger” is rarely a job title. It comes off even more desperate than “writer” in terms of what you “DO do.” Most of the time, it’s just easier to say, “I sweep floors,” because that satisfies people. Sweeping floors has a place in the rat race. Creating for the hell of it does not.

The Jacobin article states that we might consider a minimum living wage so that people can pursue their true talents without worrying about starving. I immediately see many holes in that proposal, but still I wonder how different America would be if so many people didn’t have to give it all up.

Think of the art. The music. The stories.

I feel like mailing this blog


I guess I get that in the age of e-mail, but it’s still depressing.

Incidentally, a major reason for this is that the USPS has defaulted on its pension plan — the one that forces it, with no government help, to have funds on hand for the next 75 years. That seems less to do with the advent of e-mail than it does with absolutely ridiculous financial policy.

(Slightly related digression: Recently, I went to FedEx Office, the artifice formerly known as Kinko’s (and winner of most cringe-inducing corporate name, active category). I printed out some documents with the express purpose of snail-mailing them. After purchasing the printouts, I stuck them in a stamped envelope I brought in, only to discover that the mail slot was gone. I asked the guy behind the counter where it went. He told me they no longer had a mail pickup, and hadn’t for years. “We thought we’d helped the competition long enough,” he said, adding that it was an honor to be nominated for douchiest thing I’ve heard so far in 2013. He said I could go to the post office across the street several blocks away, which was closed at the time. I guess my point is that I’ll have to be more diligent in mailing things now that yet another integral part of life has gotten harder.)

Rest in peace, Saturday delivery. You will be missed. More than I think most people realize at the moment.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

The thin skin of resilient people

During the Super Bowl blackout, I posted this on Twitter:

I admit it was kind of over the line. But I'm hardly the only one who said it tonight

But understand where I'm coming from on this. After being born in Louisiana and living here for 26 years, I moved to Missouri. The year before, I spent a month in Utah. One of the first things I noticed in both places was how every road was so well maintained. Schools were in great shape in Missouri and free of the busybody tomfoolery that defines Louisiana education these days. Elected officials weren't automatically corrupt. My power wasn't constantly out for no reason. And, most of all, I always received my paychecks, rebates and tax refunds without having to chase all of them down with considerable effort. Also, I wasn't treated with hostility anytime I expressed an unpopular opinion. 

Which is what this tweet turned out to be. Someone said I was certainly free to leave, and another agreed. Yet another said that such outages are part of what make life interesting and fun.

Hold on.

The thing about Louisiana is that it truly is one of the greatest places in the world in terms of culture and friendliness. It's unique and organic. Unfortunately, that often leads people to believe rather fervently that everything about it makes it great.

Rough edges are fine. New Orleans especially is one of my favorite places because of them. But I don't get the pride in the hassles of everyday life, in things that can be fixed. Crappy infrastructure isn't culture. Small-minded thinking isn't a trait worthy of pride. These are things that we live with because we have to, perhaps, but forgive me if sometimes it's a lot to bear.

I understand the passion — I used to be the same way. I never wanted to hear anything negative about Louisiana. But there's something to be said about constructive criticism. And I worry all the time that the crumbling infrastructure of the state — and the increasingly pig-headed attitude of politicians and taxpayers alike — is only going to get worse. It doesn't have to, but there it is. It saddens me.

I wish more people would realize the difference between the quirks that make us unique and the failings that make us struggle. The chasm between the two is enormous.

I've often been told if I don't like it, leave. The more I hear that, the more I want to. 

As it is, the economy is likely to answer that one for me.

Super Bowl XLVII notes

• I pulled for the Baltimore Ravens. My dislike for the San Francisco 49ers is strong, but not as strong as it is for some other teams. If the Saints couldn’t represent the NFC, at least the 49ers would promise an interesting matchup. Neither team had been in the game for years, so it was a nice change from the usual Patriots-Giants-Steelers dominance. Even though the 49ers can kiss my ass for their playoff win over the Saints last year (and the karma-free swagger while they did so), I wouldn’t be too upset if they won this game. With the apparent exception of Chris Culliver, the 49ers seem to be on the right side of gay acceptance, and Colin Kaepernick is hard to not like. Also, they knocked off the Falcons, so there’s that. So either way, I’d be OK with the outcome.

• That said, the power outage nearly drove me to despair. It amused me at first, inspiring me to crank out numerous jokes on Twitter. Many locals considered it an act of revenge or, at the very least, culture. But as it carried on way too long, it reminded me of how Entergy also often knocked off power to my half of my apartment complex in Baton Rouge. It began to seem like a poorly timed fluke at a time when many Americans still think New Orleans is an unstable city. And, worst of all, it simultaneously sparked the 49ers and tucked in the Ravens.

I was going to be very upset if the power outage so cleanly and directly turned the tide of the game. If the 49ers had rallied for any other reason, fine. And I doubt anyone was really that sad to see the game get interesting. But if the game had remained 100 percent Ravens before and 100 percent 49ers after, it would have seemed fraudulent to me. Games aren’t supposed to swivel over things like that. It would have been one final middle finger to a state beset enough with crumbling infrastructure and corruption. So I was glad to see both teams get competitive near the end. It was exciting, and would have been no matter who won.

As if to underscore my point about faulty infrastructure, I abruptly lost my Internet connection at about 8:40 p.m. and couldn’t reconnect until right as I wrote this sentence at 11:38 p.m. I’m sure many friends and followers were grateful for this, but it sucked not to be able to express myself at a time when I had a lot to say.

• In any case, the Ravens won, which was the outcome I hoped for to the degree that I cared. Let’s dispense with the Bill O’Reilly logic right now — rooting for the Ravens is not the same thing as supporting murder. Ray Lewis hasn’t acted particularly innocent since having been cleared of any role in the deaths of two people during a fight with his entourage — but neither do I think the bloodthirsty court of public opinion trumps the court of law. The legal system works a lot like instant replay — both require proof beyond a reasonable doubt for guilt or for overturning a call, respectively. In the eyes of the law, Lewis has every right to pursue his profession, and he remains a fan favorite. I realize that’s a sticky issue with many, but the 49ers have Randy Moss, so maybe it’s best just to leave all that out of this.