Monday, November 30, 2015

Why the Bible-verse scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas is my favorite (yes, seriously)

Anyone who knows me isn’t at all surprised that I love A Charlie Brown Christmas. The Peanuts characters were my favorites as a kid, and anytime my grandfather picked me up from the bus stop with news that a Charlie Brown special was on that night, it was Christmas no matter what time of year it actually was.

Peanuts resonated with me for two primary reasons: 1) I was a child born after 1950; and 2) I identified with Charlie Brown. Fully. I was the reasonably liked kid who nevertheless could be surrounded by friends shouting, “You blockhead!” when I messed up something — and I messed up lots of things. I was the victim of many a metaphorical Lucy yanking up that metaphorical football when I metaphorically tried to kick it and metaphorically landed on my not-so-metaphorical ass. “Everything I do turns into a disaster” is something I said often as a child (and also at 35). But still I keep pressing on, coming through the in clutch when it matters. Just like Charlie Brown.

I also loved Christmas for the presence of presents, but also because of the gatherings, the family and the music. So all in all, it’s no surprise that A Charlie Brown Christmas is still a special I make time for every year.

What might be more surprising is my favorite scene. It’s the one where Linus explains to an exasperated Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about. That scene never fails to move me.

No, this isn’t nostalgia talking; the scene didn’t strike me until I was older. Nor have I found religion; I remain an agnostic who is as uncertain about the truth of the universe as I am sure that the truth isn’t in sociopolitical dogma created by man. I try to live by the principles of peace and love taught by Jesus (and virtually all other religious figures) without the supernatural elements.

What I believe doesn’t matter anyway, because in the context of Christmas, Linus nails it, and that’s all that matters. Charlie Brown sees a holiday rife with excessive commercialization and with magnified pressure to get all the details just right, and in his frazzled state wonders how — and why — this is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, because to him it just feels like yet another time to get belittled for trying and falling short. Linus cuts through the materialism and stress with a gentle reminder of how the holiday came to be in the first place. The idea of cutting through excess artifice to get back to basics is heartwarming in any context.

What helps this scene especially is Linus’ choices of Bible verses — Luke 2:8-14 — which spell out the announcement of Jesus’ birth. This passage tells a story, which makes it palatable even to non-Christians in a way that the more grandstanding verses aren’t. (As far as lord-and-savior talk goes, anyway.) Not everyone thinks of Christ as the divine light and the way, but everyone loves the birth of a new hope.

That’s what this scene is all about, and why I will always love it.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Saints-Texans analysis

In 2009, during the Saints' superb Super Bowl run, I often missed games as they happened. This was because I lived in Missouri with basic cable — and because our weekly flag-football game took place at 1 p.m. each Sunday. If we wanted to know scores during our game, we either had to look to our friend (possibly the first person among us to own a smartphone) and hope his ESPN app was working, or bring a radio. Because the drive home from the football field was so short, I usually didn't get the score over the airwaves and had to fire up my old laptop (which couldn't stay on, lest it overheated) and cross my fingers before popped up. Oh, and there was the one-month gap when I had no functioning laptop, in which case I'd wait eagerly for SportsCenter (even telling people to call me back if they called during the Saints segment). The point being that, more often than not, I had to wait for the score. And I would. Then I'd revel in the highlights. It was a weekly ritual.

Fast-forward six years later: Today, I woke up late and stayed at home, where I have two fully functional computers, an iPhone 6, NFL Network, NFL RedZone, Saints-stocked social media and a fan friend who texts me during every game. Nowadays, it's harder work avoiding the score. And yet, I did. I had zero interest in the game, and didn't even bother to find out the score until nearly three hours after the final gun. Oh, it was 24-6 Texans, and the Saints went without a touchdown for the first time since Christmas Eve 2005? Glad I missed not a thing

You know, I remember that loss in 2005, which was at the hands of the Lions. I recall remember enjoying my new handheld DVD player while thinking, "Jeez, the Lions just beat the Saints! Not that I care, because these guys are awful and the whole regime's about to change anyway."

It's just one of those years. Judging by my Facebook feed and the single text by my friend before the game, I'm apparently not the only one who's drifted away from hardcore fanhood for the time being. Maybe it's for the best. It is liberating in a sense. But, in another, empty.

Honestly, I feel that way about most things these days. This year has been a bumpy one in terms of my getting excited about most things, long before this season gave me one more reason not to be plugged into my usual hobbies and diversions. 

And that's my Saints-Texans analysis.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Snow photos from Reno

Snow blankets homes in a northwest Reno neighborhood on Wednesday.
Snow obscures a street sign at the intersection of Robb Drive and Archimedes Lane in northwest Reno on Wednesday.
Snow blankets a plant in front of Rollan Melton Elementary School in Northwest Reno on Wednesday.
Snow melts into a storm drain in front of Rollan Melton Elementary School in Northwest Reno on Wednesday. 
Snow blankets a soccer field across from Rollan Melton Elementary School in Northwest Reno on Wednesday.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

An unfortunate yield

Today I saw a girl blow past a stop sign and make a sharp left turn to avoid having to acknowledge a guy who might (or might not) have been a panhandler. She refused even to look his way, staring in my direction instead.

She was cute. But not really.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Some colors run, after all

McDonald's currently has a promotion based on how well a given NFL team performs. It's represented by spots in which Jerry Rice peels a Cowboys game piece, and thus wears Cowboys gear and sets up a team shrine in his front yard. Similarly, Mike Ditka lands a Packers piece, and goes full Green Bay with a sweater and a statement of loyalty to Lambeau.

Apparently, fans of the 49ers and Packers, and Mike Singletary aren't taking these commercials too well, accusing the football legends of selling out, with some even blaming the ads for various jinxes.

OK. This is definitely up for review.

The entire point of the campaign is that these guys are titans of their respective teams, so therefore it's silly that they'd switch loyalties over the prospect of free french fries. (The ads wouldn't work as well with, say, Doug Flutie, though that would be funny in a different way.) No one should seriously think established legends would actually do that, even though that's totally what many fans would do when they peel their own pieces. Those who scoff at such a notion should look to anyone who plays fantasy football and cheers when the opposing quarterback gives them points. Fandom can run deep, but in the end we're all mercenaries.

That applies even to Rice and Ditka, both of whom played and/or coached for a variety of teams. Career 49er Rice finished his tenure with the Raiders and Seahawks, and even signed with the Broncos before retiring. Ditka played for the Bears, Eagles and Cowboys, and coached for the Cowboys, Bears and Saints. So the idea that either would never be affiliated with another team is an illusion.

While we're talking about legendary 49ers, don't forget that this supposed blasphemy has precedent. In 1994, Joe Montana (then with the Kansas City Chiefs!) appeared in ads for Sega's NFL Football '95. Seeing him in Chiefs colors might have already been too much for San Francisco fans (many of whom felt the quarterback got a raw deal from George Seifert), but then there was this moment of oddity:

"At some point in the past, the timeline skewed into this alternate tangent, in which Biff is corrupt and powerful, and married to your mother, and in which THIS ... has happened ... to Joe Montana!"
The game had a feature where you could trade players, and the ad depicts Montana spontaneously changing uniforms post-sack. If there was a backlash then, I didn't hear about it.

As far as the jinxes go, I'm pretty sure the Cowboys have lost seven straight because Tony Romo is out and they weren't that great even with him, and last I checked the Packers didn't need Hurricane Ditka to lose back-to-back to undefeated teams.

As someone who doesn't want (but expects) some of his favorite Saints players and coaches to be wearing different uniforms next season, I say, lighten up. McDonald's is a business offering a game. So is the NFL. 

Today in reassuring sights

Yesterday, while flying from Lafayette to Dallas on my way to Reno, I had a wing-side seat to the word "LOOSE" scrawled on the wing, referring to a series of bolts that were circled. Man, if only there was something they could do about that ...

Online dating and the confirmation of bachelorhood

Recently I decided, for the first time ever, to try online dating. And to quit it, too.

As someone who has rarely struggled to get dates (and is OK with being single), I figured online dating would be a fun way to jump-start what had been a socially stagnant couple of years in a new city. Besides, some of the greatest women ever to walk into my life did so over the Internet. So, why the hell not?

Here’s why the hell not.

Online dating is monumentally stupid.

I'm sure most of you could have told me that. The Internet did. So did my mom. They doled out the hard truth about such a pursuit that I could have have figured out too, had I given it three seconds of thought. But instead, I spent that three seconds thinking, “Gee willikers, my wit and personality are absolutely going to shine through online dating just like they do face-to-face!”


I learned very quickly that successful online dating requires everything that I hate about everything.

I’m not going to fling your typical dudebro complaints. I’m fine with women being picky in a saturated male market. That’s their right, and they have every reason to suspect every guy is a creep (because most of them are). They don’t owe me, or anyone else, anything. Anyway, I’m super-picky myself. No, what sucks about online dating is how much it resembles other aspects of life that suck.

It’s like joining a fraternity, if there was no guarantee you’d ever interact with any of the other members. Not every dating site has a subscription fee, but the one I use does. It’s named after an implement you can use to torch $100 and get about the same result. I didn’t join a fraternity in college because, among other reasons, I didn’t see the point of joining an expensive organization to meet people I could encounter for free just by living daily life. That outlook served me well for the 17 years I remembered to adhere to it.

It’s like flying first-class. Or buying power-ups for a video game. Or any other thing where spending more money proportionally makes you a better person. “Click here to really get exposure!” ”Guarantee she sees your email." Wha?

My site just made free the ability to see whether someone I’d messaged had read it. I got an email about it and everything. It was as heartwarming as those “jeans days” some schools now have as a reward. Which is to say, facepalm.

Scammers abound. Whoa, ghfghfhfylivbev1993, who is 26 and lives in Arlington, Virginia, and is looking for a man ages 18-85 within 5,000 miles, and whose profile pic I’m pretty sure I’ve seen on a billboard, has winked at me? SUH-WOON! I can’t wait until she comes back from Latvia (after I help pitch in for the trip, natch)!

It conjures all the pleasure of a job hunt when you have no idea what you want to do or where you want to live and the economy is terrible. In other words, it’s a numbers game, and you’ve got to see what sticks. You scan hundreds of prospects, whittle it down to several dozen, send out genuine and thoughtful queries to some of the more promising leads and hope that one or two bite, and hope further that one of those is worth your time and friendship. That isn't exactly inspiring at a place where people are theoretically looking to mingle. It’s a ton of effort to maybe bat .010 on acknowledgment of existence, which for me is way worse than the recent real-life slump that compelled me to try this in the first place. It makes you wonder what you’re doing wrong. Well, for starters:

You can’t make an enticing profile. It is physically impossible to write a dating profile that’s any good. No one’s ever done it. You can’t. Granted, that doesn’t matter much if your face is sufficiently droolable. But if you’re looking to sell yourself through words no matter what you look like, you’ve got a Himalayan-grade uphill climb. Every single thing you could possibly write is a cliché — even if you’re the first one ever to express it.

Case in point: my profile. I’ve been blogging for 11 years and writing for at least 30, and I’ve ghostwritten dating profiles for other people. But I can’t pull it off for myself. Even saying, “I’m not one to do this, it’s ridiculous and I don’t think you can force a meaningful connection, but why not try?” makes you sound like half the database. I changed my bio several times in a short span, always trying to heighten my voice and set myself apart. Still, combined with my gooberish pic, my profile might as well list my likes as “milk, mayonnaise and white bread,” alongside loving the outdoors and laughing, of course. (It doesn’t help that a 35-year-old man who stands 5’7” is your short-story archetype for shady guy.)

When you fill out your profile, there are lots and lots and lots of things to check. Under the “sports” field, one of my checks was volleyball, because I enjoy a good pickup game. Only thing is, I haven’t played in probably a decade. I checked it mostly to say, “Hey, I’m up for volleyball if that’s going on.” This is true of the vast majority of things I checked. And yet, I’ve gotten numerous potential matches where what we had in common was, “You both like volleyball!” Or, “Like you, she doesn’t smoke!” Or, “You both like movies!” You know, deep stuff.

Why not, “You’re both single and theoretically open to whatever future fails online dating sends your way?” Hey, honesty! Everyone prizes honesty, along with a sense of humor, long hikes on the beach and saying no to games.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to set yourself apart on a dating site precisely because you’re working with only the broadest and least-insightful traits. (If nothing else, there should be a priority scale on these traits so they all don’t seem equally paramount.) But still, you have to put them, because while checking them might not say much about you, not doing so very well could.

Like many games on The Price Is Right, it’s about guessing higher or lower than what’s in front of you. Even with the most detailed and honest profiles, you’re not getting the whole gist of a person. For better or for worse. Finding a compatible person is about reading between the lines of their profile. Do they seem educated? What do their likes and dislikes say about their past? What biases of mine am I heaping upon them? Should I be worried that there are no photos of their teeth? That kind of thing.

Rather than expand your horizons, online dating shrinks them. When I was 15, I decided that 1) blondes did nothing for me, and 2) I could never date anyone from my rival high school. About a month after I insisted that, I started dating a blonde from my rival high school, and she wound up being my favorite high school relationship. Sometimes you just click with someone, and when you do, none of your preconceived notions (or stated preferences) matter. That’s exactly how it should be, and exactly how online dating isn’t.

In taking the online-dating plunge, what I conveniently forgot was that, up until this point, I have liked people — and they me — because of what’s seen and heard and read. Even when I made a match online, it was through Blogger or Facebook, which is closer to happenstance meetings in the real world, where like attracts like as we careen around being ourselves. Those sites serve purposes other than attracting a date, which makes them better for attracting a date than online dating. You can read this blog and know what I think about things. You can get a sense of my writing style, my personality and my outlook. But saying “I’m a writer” on a dating site is about as enlightening as knowing one likes things that are great. (Come to think of it, my LinkedIn page has links to samples of my favorite works and a better pic, which technically makes it sexier than my online-dating profile.)

Online dating is never fully organic. I'm a heat-seeking missile for deal-breakers on someone's profile, but who's to say I wouldn't like them if I met them, cold, in person? In real life, you can meet someone and see what you have in common before what you don’t (or at least not let the differences divide you). Online, you’re filtering them out before you give them a chance. Could I meet a girl at a party, fall for her as she falls for me, and find out only later that she owns a pit bull mix and/or a firearm? Would the woman who insists on a 6-foot-tall man and a minimum income of $50,000 not at least have a glimmer of a feeling as I make her laugh?

I doubt I'd be attracted to 85 percent of the women I've dated if my first exposure to them had been a dating profile. And probably 95 percent of them would feel the same way about me.

If social media and blogs represent the deep end of the Internet pool, online dating is the zero-inch-depth side where toddlers get to splash a bit at minimal risk of dampening their ankles. It’s often said you can’t force a meaningful relationship, but that’s what online dating tries to do — over a shared love for oxygen, basically. It’s the 21st-century equivalent of that well-intentioned person who knows someone who’d be perfect for you solely because you’re both totally single, you guys. It could work out. It would be cool if it did. But more than likely, it won’t.

That’s a shame, because I still feel that online dating could be a terrific experience for more people. If it was, you know, something else.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Paris thought

I've said this before, but in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, it bears repeating.

The single biggest threat to humanity isn't a religion or an ideology — it's the notion that there's nothing left to lose.

People who are invested in our institutions don't set out to destroy them. People who have hope in their lives, and who have faith in their fellow humans, don't engage in suicide bombings. Hopelessness allows fanaticism to take root.

As a planet, we have to ask what underlying conditions breed this brand of nihilism, and then figure out what to do to curb them. Anything less, and we're attacking the symptom, not the problem. I don't know what the answer is — or even if there is one answer — but the question is at least worth considering, no matter how uncomfortable such introspection might make us.

If only we could have a world that everyone considered too beautiful to attack.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Saints-Titans analysis

So far this season, we're wondering if these are good Saints playing badly, or bad Saints who have had some luck.

After today, I'm voting for good Saints.

Why? Because only good Saints teams bafflingly lose embarrassing midseason trap games.

The team, its defense in particular, looked terrible today. 

That's encouraging.

Not my cup of tea

Of all the things in the world to fret about...

A few years ago, when I was in physical therapy and was emotionally funked out, I heard a guy say on a New Year's Eve special that his resolution was to stop watching so many reality shows. My immediate reaction was something like, "Oh, sure, rub in how totally together your life is." Also, "I wouldn't trade my circumstances for yours for any amount of money."

That's very much how I'm feeling about the Starbucks-cup brouhaha. Whose life is so privileged, and yet simultaneously bereft, that they are bothered by a secular corporation decorating its cups merely with Christmas colors instead of the flashy pagan symbols that make the holiday distinctly Christian? 

Who feels their most personal beliefs are violated when those beliefs aren't overrepresented on a paper drinking vessel whose useful life can be measured in minutes before it's destined for the nearest landfill?

And where can I power up to that perch? Because that sounds awesome. Here I am losing sleep over so many of life's big questions, when I could be losing sleep over things that would be trivial even if they were justified, let alone when wrapped in three layers of ridiculousness.

Then again, in that situation, I'd also be incensed right now, and stupid. So I guess I'll stick to being me. Heavy-hearted, red-cup-tolerant me.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 02, 2015

Saints-Giants analysis

Flea-flickers alive! This game was a compressed highlight reel of virtually every play we enjoyed from the 2006 and 2009 Saints — flea-flickers, busted-coverage flukes, Drew Brees breaking 94 records and the field goal to end all field goals. I almost don't care that there was no defense. They've been good these past few weeks, so they've earned a vacation. 

If they keep this up, the Saints have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. And my heart will start racing again. Dangit!! I'll take it.