Thursday, October 26, 2006

Spooky Spork

This is my favorite time of year. Part of it is the weather. In October we often have sunny days, but the sky is a different blue, the air is cool and brisk, there are yellow and orange leaves mixed in with the green, and the light itself has a different quality. Even today, when the sky is gray and there is a low-lying fog blurring my surroundings, it still has its own beauty.

In addition, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. There is just an element of creativity that you get to have as you design pumpkin carvings and costumes that I appreciate.

Unfortunately, in my current job it is our busiest time of year, so I don’t get to do as much with it as in years past. As I was reflecting on old memories, it occurred to me that my best Halloween memory and my worst both occurred on Sauvies Island. That’s pretty impressive considering that I have only been there three times.

The worst was one night where a group hayride was organized. I was going with my friend Elizabeth and some others, and due to some complications they had, we were running very late. By the time we got there the hayride had already left. I was disappointed to have missed it, but we hung around looking at the shop until the others got back. At this point, a guy she was interested in started talking to her, and offered to drive her back in his sports car via Old Germantown Road. That is the scenic route. It would probably be more scenic in daytime, but it was still an exciting offer because she liked him and she liked the car, and with some minor pangs about abandoning the rest of us she accepted.

So, that wasn’t horrible for me—just incredibly lame. With the travel time involved it was a total waste of an evening. The memory stings more because it was just the beginning of my being totally dropped as a friend as she got more and more into the guy. I have had other friends get married without that happening, so ultimately I guess we weren’t friends, we were pals, and I was disposable. It hurt a lot though, because it was happening at a time when I really needed a friend.

The fact that I am calling my best memory the best probably makes me kind of mean, but that won’t be the first time.

It was another group activity, but this time it was the corn maze. The sign said “haunted” after a certain date that was already past, but I was not sure what that meant. Although there were many of us, I was primarily with two girls, Annie and Danica, and Danica’s enthusiasm was boiling over. She wanted to run off in a separate direction, ignoring the maps and turning off the flashlights, and we humored her. She was skipping quite a ways ahead, and as she turned a corner she suddenly stopped, screamed, and starting running back towards, and then past us.

I was kind of curious about this, so I went up to look around the corner. It was an evil clown. I mean, not regular clown evil—real evil. She was crouching on the ground wearing a black cloak, a shock of read hair sticking up ala heat miser, the red nose with eye and mouth makeup, and carrying a knife. (The knife was obviously plastic, but the intent was still clear.)

Well, that explained it, so I nodded and turned around to go back to my friends. I could see that Danica had made it quite a ways and Annie was going after her. As I started towards them, the clown started following me. I thought, okay, the clown needs to be scary, I need to make up some distance, fine, I’ll jog. I’m not much of a jogger, but okay, the clown gave up, and I made it back to my friends.

Annie was holding Danica’s arms trying to help her get a grip, and as I got closer I could hear Danica saying “I hate clowns. I wish we hadn’t come.” That’s when it hit me—she was actually scared! I mean, I guess I kind of thought she had been startled by the clown and then with her natural enthusiasm it went a little over the top, but no, it was genuine fear. We met back up with the main group, but the rest of the night was ruined for her because all she could think about was whether or not the clown would show up again. (I did actually see her again, but she was in another area and I did not point her out.)

Anyway, because I am a jerk, I found it incredibly amusing. I did feel sorry for her and try to help her, but it was also funny. I guess I had some sense of exhilaration from not being scared.

You see, I was always scared of haunted houses in the past, and would refuse to go in them. Even the one at Disneyland I could barely be gotten into as a kid, and I once stayed alone in a car for an hour and a half while other people went through the Haunted Caves. Then comes this watershed moment where I realize there is nothing to be scared of. They can’t hurt you. They can’t even touch you without getting sued. (That is a recent development by the way. Back in the day they would not only touch you at the Haunted Caves, I know people who were picked up and carried places.)

I had a similar change with roller coasters that go upside down, going from no way to just abandoning all fears and loving it. Getting over fear is good.

In the case of haunted houses, I then started going to many, and was able to refine my theory. In groups, the ideal combination is to have one person who completely suspends disbelief, one who does not suspend it at all, and then some in between. That way you have the person who pulls you in to increase the excitement (or amusement), and the anchor who can pull you back out if things get too scary.

And the actors know who is whom. When we went to the Triple Maze of Terror and Haunted Dungeon at PGE Park, there was always a monster following Karen. When we went to the 13th Door, one ghoul followed Little Sister M into the parking lot. The sadistic side of me thinks that rocks, but my nice side will make you hot cocoa and tell you jokes until you feel better.

Lastly, when I was pointing out the issue of them not being able to touch you in the corn maze, someone raised the point of yes, but what if an escaped murderer ends up here at the same time? She felt that with her luck, if it happened to anyone it would happen to her.

First of all, I just like my odds on that one; I think I will be okay. However, I have thoughtfully prepared a list of three trouble signs that will let you know when to take things more seriously.

1. They touch you.
2. Their weapons are made of metal, not plastic.
3. They are not teenagers.

It’s not a given that they are bad at that point, but you should at least be ready to act defensively. And really, you should always know a few self-defense moves, regardless of your location. My favorite is a swift knee to the groin.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Away to San Jose!

The first thing that must be acknowledged is yes, every time I hear that city name, the song goes through my head. I did not sing it to any natives though, and maybe only once to my traveling companions. You have to be considerate like that. Actually, the hotel was in Santa Clara.

The second point is that it was not the coolest trip I have ever taken by a long shot. I don’t regret going, but if I never make it back there, that is okay.

Little Sister M, Friend H, and I arrived around noon on Thursday. We needed to pick up the rental car and head over to the hotel where Little Sister J would be waiting, having finished her last meeting.

We were there because Intel is there, but we saw other high-tech names everywhere. I think it is more obvious when you are in the Silicon Valley than in the Silicon Forest.

The road layout is interesting in that you spend the majority of your time on expressways, at least using the driving directions we had. We would change expressways about four times on the average excursion, and then once you get onto a regular street it is one block to your destination.

Our first stop was Winchester House, located in San Jose proper. This was one I had wanted to go to for a long time, and I would say it is the one most worth going for. I was surprised to see how it is smack dab in the middle of the city. The surrounding land has been sold off and developed, so it’s basically next to a strip mall.

I did not feel anything spooky whatsoever, but it was still interesting to see. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and you cover a lot of ground on the tour.

If you do not already know, Sarah Winchester was told by a medium that the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifles were angry and would haunt her, and she needed to keep adding onto a house to make room for them. Not only is the house huge, but there are some oddities like a door to nowhere, stairs to nowhere, and similar things. The obvious thought is that she’s crazy.

One thing we learned is that their only child died of failure to thrive, and that was followed by her husband dying of tuberculosis. So, she basically saw the two most important people in her lives waste away, dying by inches. You can see how malevolent spirits could seem reasonable. Also, she had the money to get away with it.

I was surprised to see an option to purchase a year pass to the house, as it does not seem like a place you would keep coming back to. However, they do have three different tours: the standard (which we took), a behind the scenes tour, and a flashlight tour. You can also do a self-guided tour around the garden. I explored the garden while my exhausted entourage rested in the café, because you do cover a lot of ground. If you wanted to do everything, and you lived nearby, it would make sense to do things on different days.

On Friday we headed down to Gilroy to visit Bonfante Gardens.

I have contemplated doing a guide to Disneyland based on body type, because depending on your shape, some rides are less comfortable than others. However, you can still go on almost everything. This is not true of Bonfante.

Many of the rides are set up for children only, and that is fine. We just did not happen to have any children with us. However, even on some of the all access rides, access was indeed limited by size and weight, even for those who were not particularly heavy.

There was an episode of Designing Women where they go to a spa, and Charlene and Suzanne end up in the weight loss program while the rest are pampered and coddled. Charlene is embarrassed to be there, and keeps piping up that she just had a baby. Finally Suzanne snaps, “Yes. As opposed to the rest of us who are just fat and childless.” That’s what I was thinking.

Also, because on the web site there was such a focus on agriculture and horticulture, I kind of expected better landscaping. Yes, they had the circus trees, but it just was not as pretty as it could have been.

Finally, the prices inside the park were expensive, and the customer service was pretty indifferent. We only found one friendly employee in the entire day.

Do I hate the place? No, but I can’t recommend it. If you are in the area, perhaps for the garlic festival, and you have small children, it’s a reasonable stop, but it is not a destination, kind of like you would not travel cross-country just to go to the Enchanted Forest in Salem.

Our last stop was Great America in Santa Clara. Size was an issue again, though not as much. Customer Service was indifferent again too. I guess Disneyland has spoiled us because they really train them well there, and they recruit students from all over the country, and their staff in general is just friendlier and better informed. No one knew if the theater with the motion simulator was operating or exactly where it was. That should not be a hard question.

The rides are pretty cool for the most part. I loved The Demon. (The Grizzly is probably also pretty good, but it broke.)

It was far too crowded, but of course it was a Saturday. Generally we are only at amusement parks during the week, and we go during the off-season. Great America is only open on weekdays during the summer, so you either have hot weather or weekend crowds. I don’t know how crowded the summer weekdays get, as I think California is year-round school, so you would not have everyone out on summer vacation. I could go back here, but I would be more likely to try Magic Mountain or a Six Flags, just for something new. And, who knows? Were I to develop a new body I might want to try them all again just to see what that was like. I would probably still not do Bonfante again without small children.

So there you go. Nothing fantastic, but nothing horrible either. Chances are the worst day on vacation is still better than the best day at work. It’s just that work pays for them.

I still need to report on Toronto, but it will not be until I get back from Italy. Arrivaderci!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

World-wide Spork

I am behind again, as is no surprise, and I have some travel to catch up on, which is one of my favorite topics. Before that, I thought I should take a moment to explain how all of the travel ended up happening so close together.

First of all, I subscribe to Portland Opera. I have been doing so since 1998. Occasionally, I will get advertisements for other opera things, but nothing has ever tempted me until about two and a half years ago when I received a solicitation from Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. They were building a new opera house, and they were going to inaugurate it with three consecutive full productions of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

I should back up and explain that the Ring Cycle is a series of four operas with a continuing storyline. The most famous segment is probably Die Walkurie, because everyone has heard “The Flight of the Valkyrie”, and that is where it comes from.

Portland Opera does four or five operas a year, and I think that is fairly common, unless it’s the Met, so either you are just doing one of the series, and you lose some context, or you do the whole thing and that is your entire season. And if you are only doing one composer for your entire season, making it Wagner is a risk. All of the stereotypes of bombastic music delivered by fat women in Viking helmets originate there.

The point is, it’s a huge commitment. The way they were doing it was spreading the four nights over six days three weeks in a row. The continuity is great because you are seeing what happens the next night or the night after, and the musicians are the same and the same singers are doing the same characters as their story continues.

I personally do tend to prefer Italian and French opera, but I listened to the cycle on CD, and it really is beautiful. Plus I had never been to Toronto, so I signed up. It is hard to plan your life two years in advance though, so it is not surprising that there were complications. My time there was September 18th through the 24th.

My mother is from Italy, having come here because she married an American soldier who was stationed over there. She has been back to visit three times. She went with my father, older brother and older sister before I was born, and she went with my younger sisters twice while I was struggling to get through college, so I am the only one who has not been there. The only member of her family I have met is her oldest sister, who has come here a few times.

Mom’s last time over there was eleven years ago. We have thought about sending her many times, but there were always concerns with work and money, where you think maybe next year will be better. However, her oldest sister is twenty-one years older, and eventually you realize that you do not have forever, and maybe there is no such thing as a good time. When we had looked at all the different possibilities for who would go, and when, it ended up being me with Mom, and in October. We leave the 6th and come back on the 17th. I have less than two weeks in between getting back from Toronto and leaving for Italy.

My sisters and I also really like amusement parks. Disneyland is definitely where we go most, but we have talked at times about maybe taking an early morning flight on a Saturday, spending the day at Magic Mountain, and coming back that night. The idea has come and gone, but while Little Sister J was exploring the internet, looking at Great America in Santa Clara revealed some other interesting attractions nearby. As we were debating if we could do it, and when, she got scheduled for a business trip to Santa Clara at the end of August, and it seemed perfect, so she had us join her there on the Thursday, spending three days there.

As you can imagine, I am really pushing the limits of my available vacation time, but I don’t really regret it. I love travel. Go somewhere? Yeah! Almost anywhere. I mean, it’s not like it’s taking time away from my husband and children, or that I am worried about not progressing very much in my career. About the only grown-up responsibility I have now is a house (that will be a topic for another day), so I might as well have a hobby of some kind.

So these are the trips that I need to catch up on. I’m hoping I can write up Santa Clara and post it Friday morning, right before we leave, and then have installments on Toronto and Italy in the few weeks afterwards.

Next up? Well, my younger sisters turn thirty in February, about a month after I turn thirty-five. They have been looking at ways to make it special for a few years, originally thinking London, then Vegas with friends, then settling on Disneyland with just the three of us. About two months ago, J had the idea of Hawai’i. None of us have been there, and January should be a great time to go. M was very upset to lose Disneyland, but we argued that it might be better in April, so it’s a good thing I get more vacation in January because it’s going fast. Also, someone mentioned the possibility of just a weekend in Vegas in December, but I don’t think that one will really happen.

Still, it is going somewhere. Hmmm.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Spork and Football

Okay—now I am ready to talk about football.

It took me a little while to learn to love football. I really hated it as a kid, but like most prejudices it was because I did not understand it. This is possibly due to our never having a unit on football in PE. We had units on basketball, soccer, and softball, as well as playing games like dodgeball and kickball, but we never had football for some reason.

Still, even if they had never taught us anything about basketball, I think I could have picked up the basics from watching. If you have the ball, you try and get it in the hoop. If you don’t have the ball, you try and get the ball, and keep the other team from getting it in the hoop. There is a definite logic to it. I’m not sure that there is any way of intuitively grasping first downs and point conversions. My brother would watch a game, and I would be noticing the flowers on the line markers, or the colors of the uniforms.

There was an attempt once to get together a powder puff football match for a field day when I was in high school, and I got on that team, but we only had a few practices and it got called off. My positions were alternating between nose guard and right tackle, and frankly, you don’t have to know a lot to do those positions right. Don’t let anyone past you—that’s it in a nutshell.

I have already mentioned that my friend Sid was the resident advisor for my dorm my first year in college, and we spent a lot of time together, and occasionally took classes together. That spring, Football Coaching was one of the classes offered.

That whole slew of classes was going to be going away due to budget cuts, so although basketball coaching would have really been where I could have excelled, I took what I could get, football, and then baseball coaching a couple of terms later.

After all, I figured, I would have friends in the class (Jack and Lani were taking it too), and I was sure that I would come out of it understanding football and maybe even appreciating it. I was right, as far as that went.

I did come out of the class appreciating football, and understanding it. It’s just that everyone else in the class came in with that sort of understanding already, and you needed to understand a lot more to do well in the class, where you could understand various plays and strategies and, oh, things a coach would do. I was so lost.

I really set myself up for failure, though I did not know it at the time. I completed a lot of AP credits in high school, which is good because money was a big issue. I worked through summer and fall term, and started in January of 1991. I was not sure of my major, or what sorts of classes were even needed to move towards graduation. I did meet with a peer adviser, but without my realizing it, I ended up with a very wimpy schedule of twelve credits, all lower division, and one of the classes canceled out some of my English credits.

My grades were pretty good that term, despite the fact that I did not study much or work very hard, and this left me with a false sense of confidence. Spring term, I initially started with twenty-one credits, and they were largely upper-division. I did drop the science class because the professor was quite boring, and that left me with eighteen credits: Accelerated Italian (6 200-level credits), French Short Fiction (3 300-level credits), French Novel (3 300-level credits), a Spanish Conversation and Composition class (3 300-level credits), and Football Coaching (3 400-level credits). So, I was essentially taking four languages, mostly at junior level, while I still had the study habits of a lazy high school student. I was soooo lost.

Well, the Italian class was the second part of one I had taken my first term, and I continued to do pretty well in that. As my grades for the others started to slide and I started trying harder, I also began to see that I did not know enough about sex to understand French Literature. An unfulfilled woman is staring at the stars and it’s so overwhelming she falls off the porch—how I am supposed to know that was an orgasm? There was a language barrier all right, but there was even more of a mindset barrier.

That leads back to my problem with football. One of our assignments was to attend one practice and write about it, but I found myself out there almost every day trying to grok this thing. And I did get to understand the sport, but I could never coach it and I barely passed the class. Put all of those classes together and my cumulative GPA never fully recovered. I just wanted to get it above 3.5, and I ended up in the 3.4 range. Again, with the AP credits, I only attended eight terms total (spread out from ’91 to ’96) , so I only had six terms left to get it back up, but I felt that.

Now, I don’t regret this at all, because I have good memories of the class and of football. I just wish I had gone in better prepared. Anyway, this is where I begin to care not just about football but about football players. Remember, high school was largely about caring for athletes, be they soccer, basketball, or track. I was already doing things for the basketball team at college, it was only natural to start caring about the football team. You can’t do as much, though, because there are so many of them.

For me, it was mainly that I would keep track of them, and congratulate them when they made honor roll or got elected captain or things like that. At one point, I did think of making a football mural. I had made a basketball mural two years running, where I did cartoons of the team members and got them to sign it. When, after working through summer and fall again, I came back to school in Winter ’92, I picked up a press guide (a collection of player stats and bios that the press can use as a reference) to practice sketching them. After going through all ninety of them, I realized I was not going to do a poster, but hey, I got some more drawing experience.

I am not a great artist, but every now and then a face will come out just right. If I really applied myself, I could probably become skilled, but you only have time to pursue so many things, and right now that is not one of them. Some came out horribly, some pretty well, and the one that I thought would be the most difficult of all came out best. The one I cared about most came out looking like a pirate. I’m not sure how it happened. His photo in the press book was not at all pirate-like. There would be a lot more to tell about that in general, but I will share a couple of different things.

One is that the press book also had birth dates, and so I would also often know when it was someone’s birthday, and if I saw them I would wish them a happy one. No baking, because there were just too many of them, but I would at least wish them well. Although it should have been strange, no one ever acted like it was strange. It didn’t occur to me until years later that they may have recognized me from practice. I rarely knew whom I was looking at because they were wearing helmets and there were a lot of them, but it is possible that the girl with the notebook stood out.

In addition, as I was taking the class, Bill Musgrave was graduating and there was some question about who would take his place as starting quarterback, with four main candidates. The one who ended up winning out was Danny, who was my least favorite. I knew Brett from church, and liked him and his wife a lot. Doug was Bill’s brother, and very smart, and Kyle was fairly good looking, and all I saw with Danny was that he was young and cocky. I believe he admits to having been cocky now, so I feel okay saying it. Anyway, I was kind of resenting him, even though starting order really had nothing to do with me.

Anyway, the morning after I realized I needed to go on a mission, I was walking to the Institute, and I felt great. A weight had been lifted, and I was really happy, and things were good.

The Institute is on 16th and Alder, 16th being a one-way street. The drive that goes into campus is a little to the left of Alder, and I was walking down the sidewalk on this drive. At 16th, Danny pulled up to the corner the same time I did, him in a truck, me on foot. He was waiting there, and I sort of wanted him out of the way, and there should have been no reason for him to be waiting, but he was, so there I was irritated again. I decided, Whatever, I’m going, and as soon as I was across he illegally turned right, making the quick cut down Alder instead of going all the way around. It just stuck me as funny and I have been fond of him ever since.

On a final note, my favorite thing to happen in football is getting an interception and taking it all the way for a touchdown. Either one is good on its own, but put them together and that is an exhilarating play. I think Ricky Whittle had the main one I remember, but it’s been a long time.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Celebrity Hate Extravaganza!

Although I do have a lot of deep thoughts about current events and religion and literature, my tendency for the blog has been to keep things fairly light; some nostalgia, some travel, some humor. Generally the postings sort of build upon each other, in that writing about meeting famous people lead to my basketball memories, which led to memories of student politics. Now, what I wanted to do next was write about my football memories, to round out the topic of sports, but I have just been so irritated with celebrities lately, that I think I need to vent.

The most disturbing part is that I am not really even that into celebrity gossip. When we go on vacation my sisters will usually buy a People magazine that I will read, but we don’t read any of the more focused, tabloid like publications, and we don’t watch E! or anything, so the information I get is from tertiary sources like the gossip section of the Oregonian or the headlines on AOL. So why do I know so much about Suri Cruise and Nicole Richie? It just doesn’t seem right. And as annoyed as I get with what I do find out, are the people who read the Star and watch Hollywood Extra apoplectic, or does this stuff not annoy them?

So, I am just going to throw out some vitriol here, and hopefully then be cleansed of it for another several months. Maybe not, I’m going to San Jose for a few days with my sisters next week, so who knows what I will find in People?

First off, Paris Hilton. You know, there are very few people of whom I can say that the mere sight of them makes my entire being scream slut, but apparently I am wrong because she says she has only slept with two people. Again, it’s just a little appalling that I know that. Anyway, my irritation here stems from an interview that I kept seeing segments of, and I think I actually read the whole thing after searching on one of the quotes, the one about her being the blonde icon of our age, right up there with Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana.

Can that really be the icon of our age? Wealth without elegance and fame without accomplishment? That speaks well of us. I guess I should be happy she is only the blonde icon—maybe the brunette icon is better. Ultimately, I am not sure that you get to name yourself the icon anyway. I’m pretty sure Diana never did. Marilyn might have, but at least she became famous by acting, as opposed to getting “acting” roles because she is famous.

As an animal lover, I must add that I was horrified that when her dog was missing it was eventually revealed that she just forgot and left him over at her grandparents’ house. Okay, Project Runway aside, animals are not fashion accessories. If you leave a pair of black pumps over at Grandma’s, there is no problem with food, water, bathroom outings, or loneliness. How can you forget a living, breathing creature that probably adores you?

Also in that article was a repudiation of various claims that she was getting into fights with other girls like Lindsay Lohan and so on. At first it seemed like it was heading into the direction of the tabloids making things up, and I could buy that. What she was actually stating was that the other girls are making it up to increase their fame, and that’s just a little too self-serving, okay. If you want to defend yourself fine, but turning it into a declaration about your infinite superiority to all those other wannabes is less cool, even though this leads us into my next tangent of hate, pop princesses.

I haven’t seen much difference in the boy bands of my youth and today; I’d say New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys are about equivalent. The other side of the coin though, is completely different, because Debbie Gibson was way less annoying than Britney Spears and company.

Initially, it was just a lot of buzz and I wasn’t paying much attention, but I did catch the names Britney, Christina, Jessica, and Mandy. Christina differentiated herself by getting a lot nastier, and Mandy actually had a song a liked, and never seemed to be as much in the mainstream, so I am not including her in this. Then, we had two who started more as actresses, Lindsay and Hilary, get into music as well. Fine, it’s not like I’m watching music videos anymore, or listening to pop radio, so it doesn’t really affect me.

However, as I was reading an article about Britney coming to town, someone was pointing out that the stage props she was using were the same kind that get used in porn, and seeing some of the dance moves that they showed on the news, well, they were pretty sexual. This was driven home again when I accidentally came across a Jessica Simpson video that was all about making love to the camera. The problem with this is that their audience is young girls. I know there are adult men who really appreciate Jessica Simpson, but it’s not for her music. So for their key audience they are role modeling sluttiness, and I don’t like that.

In addition, there was a time when I watched music videos because, oh, the music stations actually played them and also I like the music, and the thing that stuck with me is how good a time the musicians appeared to be having. They loved playing, and there was a joy to it, that you knew they would always be doing music in some way, whether they were famous or not. I don’t see any joy or love in these over-choreographed hyper-sexual routines. I am not a huge White Stripes fan, but I could totally see where they made such a sensation at the beginning. It was such a relief to hear something stripped down and raw and real again.

I mean, I suppose they can’t really just let go and let their talent carry them, because none of them seem to be that good, but it’s sad. Did you see Ashlee Simpson on Saturday Night Live? The first thing I noticed was that there was no professionalism there, but in addition, there is no ability to adapt or improvise at all.

That was the other thing that really annoyed me about this group. Every single one of them has a sister also in the business (Jamie Lyn, Ashlee, Alison, and Haylie). I know it’s not a huge threat to say that if Dakota and Elle Fanning ever put out a record, I won’t buy it, but I won’t.

Also annoying, is that even with my shriveled black raisin of a heart, I can’t help feeling sympathetic at times. I mean, look at them:
· Britney’s life is pretty much a train wreck.
· I suspect Jessica has severe Daddy issues, which can really be an obstacle to healthy relationships.
· Lindsay’s skin seems to be heading for thirty a lot faster than it should be, but no matter how leathery and tough her skin gets, her ego appears to be tissue fragile.
· Hilary is looking really weird, and if it is because of surgical alterations or an eating disorder or creative dentistry, well, that would indicate some self-esteem issues.

It is possible to simultaneously feel pity and disgust. Naturally, this brings us to Mel Gibson.

Mel, it is nice of your Hollywood friends to defend you, but being able to compartmentalize the Jews in your life from the big bad ones running the worldwide conspiracy does not mean you are not a bigot. Alcohol does not put things inside you, it lets them out. It was a good apology in general, but that line was false. Also, I detect a smack of chauvinism, maybe even misogyny, but we’ll let that slide for now and focus on the anti-Semitism.

First off, you wonder where it comes from. I suspect your father. I suppose it could be possible for a Holocaust denier to not be anti-Semitic, maybe, but the thing is, there is just so much evidence of it, that you have to be really strongly motivated to maintain that denial, and they just kind of go together.

So fine, you had a head start in that department, but you have been able to function well for the most part with people of many races, but should probably never drink. Here is where I develop some sympathy, because at about the same time there was a shooting in Seattle, again, apparently someone upset because the Jews cause all the wars in the world. This was far more serious, because people got hurt, and one died, but no one was famous so I guess it was not that interesting.

I suspect the common thread is that all of the conflict, and seemingly hopeless conflict, can tip people over the edge. If you believe in the Apocalypse, which I do, watching the news can be kind of scary. (There are reasons it should be comforting too, but that’s a longer discussion.) If you are already heading in the direction of unhinged, the news will not help.

That being said, there are a few key points that are being missed. First of all, while Israel’s behavior is often arrogant and destructive, it has not been as relentlessly hateful as that of the PLO, or Hezbollah, or Hamas, or other groups we could add.

If the root of Anti-Semitism is revenge for the Crucifixion, there are some problems. Not the role of Pilate and the soldiers—they would never have gotten involved if not for the Jewish religious leaders—but really, is anyone who participated in that still alive? Or were they when Hitler started his death camps, or when pogroms occurred in Russia, or any of the other events going back. Any persecution for the interested parties had to have been done by the Romans, not quite two thousand years ago.

Yes, they said, “His blood be upon us and our children,” but I am not sure they should have the right to say that. The Gibson children may be mocked because of their father, and they may have inherited the gene for alcoholism, but I’m sure Mel does not wish that on them, and we shouldn’t either. We inherit enough baggage from our parents already, their sins should not be held against us.

Besides that, Christ does not hate them. What they did was wrong, but it was all in His plan, and He will be coming back for them. When Jerusalem is surrounded by her enemies, the enemies will be destroyed, and the Jews will be converted and be healed. If you believe in the Bible, you should never take sides against the Jews. That would be crazy. But people in Hollywood go crazy all the time.

So, if I may close with a few more peeves, celebrity couple nicknames (TomKat, Brangelina, Bennifer) are stupid, the more Scientologists say that they have seen Suri and that she is beautiful, the more people will believe there are birth defects (are you looking for a replacement baby?), and Jennifer Aniston, quit skanking up Vince Vaughn.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Lame Ducks

Yet again, too much time has elapsed. I feel like I am being irresponsible to my fans, so all six of you (Josh, Mollie, Zach, Karen, Jerry, and Tara), my apologies. I guess this one is a little intimidating to start because there is just so much dirt, and I know once I start I will be here a while.

First off though, I mentioned a very tense basketball game between Beaverton and Aloha. I had to deal with similar tension twice recently for World Cup. I had not intended to get into it, but Italy kept advancing, so I started watching and those last two games were nail-biters. I’m happy with the end results though.

Okay, when we left off, I made the front page of the Daily Emerald without really feeling like I belonged there. It was discovered while I was in a van on the way up to Salem. I am just going to say right now that I will not vouch for getting anyone’s name right except for Sid. Sid was my resident assistant my freshman year (this is not Frank, who was from my senior year). I had met him before when he was dating my government teacher’s daughter, and was thrilled to find him at the head of my dorm.

Sid was always politically alert, and paid attention to campus politics as well. He was helping with the campaign of two people who were in the van with us, and whose names I cannot remember at all. I think it was Scott and maybe Kristin, but I’m probably wrong. I can see their faces very clearly—I just can’t read the names on the posters and buttons that I helped with. Remember, this was 1991. Anyway, I supported their candidacy, and was helping.

Also in the van were the current co-presidents (sort of an innovation of theirs on president/vice-president) whom I believe were named Kirk and Sheila. Sid had helped on their campaign too, which we thought was a good sign.

There may have been someone else in the van too, but it was at least the six of us, and we were going to observe some discussions on educational funding at the state capitol, and were kind of hoping that our showing interest would make them hesitate to cut more.

I should mention that I started school right around the time Ballot Measure 5 passed, and the funding changes from that were already causing real problems, even when the economy was not horribly slumped.

We left quite early in the day, but not so early that we could not grab some Emeralds to read in the van. There I was. This was interesting to everyone, and unexpected, but more discussion came from the second item, with the much smaller picture.

Now, there were generally four categories of candidates in student body presidential elections, though I was still learning all of this. I think we were missing a joke candidacy this time around. Other elections would feature joke candidates like the pair who wanted to turn the student center into a water park, or the ones who ran on the platform that since one of them was an atheist and one was a minister (sent in one of those magazine ads), together they represented everybody. These candidates were never taken seriously, but did not let it get them down. One went on to run in the Eugene city elections, on the platform that Springfield should be forcefully annexed and Eugene should be moved up to a space station like the Death Star, but not one that would get blown up. They were generally pretty harmless, except for the ones who were campaigning against Safe Ride.

Safe Ride was a program that ran at night with a van driven by women, providing women with rides. Rape is a common problem on college campuses, and while walking across campus may not have been as likely a scenario as getting drunk at a frat party or just trusting the wrong acquaintance, you do what you can to minimize any opportunities.

There was a sketch comedy show done by some students that ran on cable access, and that disappointed me greatly by not being funny once I got a chance to see it. Anyway, their guys protested Safe Ride as being discriminatory against men. I suppose that’s true, but it was also really practical for a useful program, and so going against it had the potential to do harm. Even if the clowns who wanted the water park had won, I’m sure that there would have been plenty of checks to their power in place where it never would have happened. It’s just very different. I suppose their problem was that they bordered on one of the other types, which was, for lack of a better term, Young Republican.

Yes, Eugene and University of Oregon are generally considered the province of crunchy granola liberal hippies, and to be fair, that is somewhat exaggerated. There is nonetheless a strong conservative element, and they usually produced a team of candidates, crusading for all that was wholesome and pure and fascist. Can fascism and capitalism go together? I guess so. I have never seen a candidacy in this category do well, but I suppose it could happen.

The other categories were (of course) the crunchy granola liberal hippies, and what I considered normal. I considered Scott and Kristen to be normal, leaning left politically, but fairly moderate, and open to social conventions like bathing and business appropriate attire for situations where it would be expected. Honestly, Kirk and Sheila probably leaned more towards the hippie, but that’s okay.

The first scandal concerns the young republicans, Matt Colson and running mate. What broke in the paper that morning was an investigation that would soon be nicknamed Colgate. At this point, in addition to possibly getting names wrong, I may even have some details wrong, but it’s my own fault for not saving the paper. The gist will definitely be correct.

You see, one thing that we did at U of O to fight apartheid is that one day a week, the student union did not sell Coca Cola products because of the corporations dealings in South Africa. Not exactly total divestiture, but it clearly worked because the regime change happened, just like we planned.

One of the members of the Black Student Union (a very handsome and engaging young man whose name might have been Kellen) had spoken to the student congress about extending this ban, but after he left, Matt reopened the discussion, which was a constitutional no-no.

Like most political scandals, it was not so much the initial wrongdoing as the cover-up that gets you into trouble. Matt was seen in a place and time where he should not have been, and there was evidence that he was trying to alter the minutes of the session to erase what he had done.

This is exceedingly foolish anyway, because at that point there are enough people who were there and remembered it happening that you can’t really make it go away. Anyway, he was very huffy and denied everything, and if people were so sure he had done this, why didn’t they start a criminal investigation? Well, for starters, violating student congress procedures is not a criminal offense, Nimrod. I think he also got in trouble for having a weapon on campus once. He had just left it in his care, but it is against the rules. We can’t have them in the parking lot where I work either. Anyway, let us just call him a weasel and be done with it. The fun dichotomy of that election was that the amount of spending each team did was inversely proportional to the amount of votes they got. So, the weasels spent the most money (a lot more, actually, his running mate seems to have been kind of wealthy) and got the least votes, my team was in the middle, and the hippies won handily without spending much money at all.

Writing about Gen and Josonya is hard to do without sounding like a bigot, but ultimately their platform was that one was a lesbian and one was black, and so they knew what it was like to be minorities, and could represent that. I kind of got into trouble with that.

The biggest issue for student government is always the fees. You can’t do much about tuition costs or book costs or anything like that, but the student fees are somewhat flexible, and since student government dictates the funding that comes out of the fees, it controls the amount. Also, whatever you fund, someone is against it, so the controversy comes in there.

One segment of the fees went to Lane Transit District, making every student ID work as a bus pass. True, there were people who didn’t use the buses, but if you make that optional, the amount goes up for those who do use it, and they are probably subsidizing something that you do. That’s how taxes work and communities work.

The greatest time spent on decision making probably went to different clubs, and student papers, and things like that. Many of these clubs were specifically for minority group. I already mentioned the BSU, but there was also Mecha for Mexicans and Chicanos, one for Asians, and one for GALBA for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, all of whom sponsored events and speakers and did student outreach.

The biggest chunk of money may have been for sports, and that was the most popular area for attack, because sports are lowbrow. Except, that even though mentally when you hear sports, you think of men’s basketball and football, those programs made enough money together to cover their expenses. So these fees are really more of a benefit to women’s basketball, volleyball, wrestling, and softball. Track may have made enough money to cover itself too.

Anyway, as sports were being trashed for taking funds away from these clubs, I pointed out that maybe getting an athletic scholarship might make more difference to someone choosing a school than the presence of a strong black student union. My point was that the sports programs had value also, to the students who played and who went to the games. It was taken as my implying that the only way these minority students could get into college was if they played sports. I know that was not what I said.

The way I honestly felt, but could not quite articulate, was that I might as well have just said “Quit picking on sports, you dirty Commies!” because that is how well it was received. And honestly, is being a minority even a good platform? Because that’s kind of like saying that you won’t represent the majority well. I think they should have focused on their qualifications, and plans, and those plans should include something more creative than attacking athletics.

Even if I was not supporting someone else, and if I had not attended that disastrous meet the candidates session, I probably would not have liked them anyway because I saw that Brian Hoop was supporting them, and I had read an interview with him that really made me dislike him. Yes, working with low-income families to encourage gardening is a good thing to do (he did have a qualification), but his general air was kind of condescending and he talked about blowing things up. That was a bad quote to have, because it made the Feds look at him a lot more harshly when he was at the head of an angry mob that kicked in the front windows of Eugene City Hall.

(They were protesting the Rodney King verdict. I disagreed with that verdict too, but somehow I did not feel that the Eugene city government was responsible, or that marching on them would help. Not that they intended to kick the windows in; it just sort of happened. That is exactly the problem with protesting. Put a lot of people together who are angry, and it’s really easy for stupidity to break out.)

Anyway, Gen won, and as far as I know (because I was gone) she served a perfectly adequate presidency, but I don’t know who served with her because Josonja resigned.

This is another spot where the details get fuzzy, in terms of when people learned what. I know the first thing that happened chronologically was that she shoplifted a troll doll from the student bookstore, and was caught. I think the fine was $120.00, and she paid it, but the check was bad. Then to avoid dealing with that, she was using her sister’s ID, and there was a significant weight difference so the police did not believe her, and it all went south from there.

Stealing is legally and morally wrong, but it is easy enough to pass off the theft of a $7.00 troll doll as just a stupid prank, and not something that should damage your political clout, despite the central role of the bookstore in student life and history. But there was just so much else that went with it, that you have to wonder exactly how together this person is anyway, and was she really the best running mate available?

Ultimately, I suppose it was all good training for adult life. I learned that politics are sordid, got used to cynicism and low voter turnout, and learned that way to really win an election is to mobilize the frats, which is harder that it looks.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Spork and Basketball

I should probably start saying next time instead of next week, just as a safeguard. I had been doing better, but I am training a new hire this week, which is time-consuming, but the real problem is that the rest of the world does not stand still while you are doing that. I expect things to be more under control after this week.

While in the midst of this fame series, I was thinking how it is kind of sad that as many musicians as I have hung out with at various times, it is sad that none of them are on the most famous list. The fun surprise from it is that I have been working on and off with one band member without ever making the connection (Hi, Kurt!), but I had only talked to him two or three times back then, so it does not make me a total space case.

I understand that college (and high school) bands are not a rigid construct, with names and members changing on a regular basis (The Juice Factory? What happened to Red Shift?), so maybe that lack of stability decreases the likelihood of making it big. Still, these guys were talented, skilled, often good-looking, and made for some memorable times. So, it makes me feel pessimistic for the future of Bobby West, recently discovered outside Pioneer Place, and he just has a great voice. It also begs the question, why can’t they ever come up with a decent opening act at the Crystal Ballroom?

Anyway, I just want to give a shout-out to Mike Johnson, John Sabol, Darren Joye, and Andrew Diamond. I hope you are still making music, even if you are not making money at it.

Moving right along, another thing that occurred to me is that of the current three top contenders (Pappy Boyington, Wynton Marsalis, and Kelly Packard) along with this week’s subject, Terrell Brandon, there is not really a clear contender for most famous. There could easily be many people who would recognize one name, but not the others, depending on their areas of interest. I am leaning towards Wynton being the best known, but I could be wrong.

I did not meet Terrell until college, but I was well aware of him in high school. Through a string of events that will probably be recounted some other day, I managed my high school’s men’s basketball team for three years. Although we were Metro League, we always had a few games versus PIL teams, and you’re aware of what’s going on with them because it affects playoffs.

Anyway, he was just a phenomenal player, and I admired him even more because he was also the state triple jump champion. I mean, I don’t get triple jump as an event, but still, given the level at which he played basketball that he still competed in another sport and season, and excelled at it, was cool. He was the state athlete of the year that year, and it was like, of course, who else even comes close?

He was not the only high school standout that I saw play in college, or the only college player that went on to the NBA. Of the rest, the most famous would definitely be Damon Stoudamire. I first saw him the year we (Aloha High School) made it into the Final Four. Wilson was the team that knocked us out, going on to beat Beaverton for the state championship.

I was amazed at how young he looked. Aloha did not even have freshmen then (it is a four year school now, but when I was growing up, 9th grade was the last year of junior high), and varsity teams were still usually mostly seniors and maybe some really good juniors. So here was this child, basically, who was also remarkably short, and he’s playing with the big boys. He had the chops to back it up though. My main memory of him was that he just exuded cockiness, but maybe it was necessary to compensate for his size.

Anyway, his cousin Antoine played at Jesuit, which was also in the Metro League, and then played for University of Oregon. Jordy Lyden played for Beaverton (the afore-mentioned number two team for that year), and also went on to University of Oregon. The most exciting and terrifying game I ever saw was our home game against Beaverton that year. I think the final score was 33-32, it might have even been 36-35, but it was just ridiculously low for basketball. That’s a football score. The defense was so heavy and the competition was so intense that every point earned just took blood. We won, and it was probably as close to perfect play as we ever came, but the knots in the stomach you have watching that. Yikes!

Also, I should mention that the Aaron who was not a drug dealer played for Aloha and U of O both, though we did not overlap very much due to the time we took off to serve missions. He was how I ended up meeting most of the guys there, though not quite directly (that’s another long story, if not two or three long stories).

So most of these guys were Ducks anyway. Damon was a Wildcat in college, and they were on the Pac-10 schedule, but again with the mission I don’t think I saw him play more than once or twice. For anyone wondering about famous Beavers, Gary Payton was drafted the year before I started college, and I only have very vague memories of Brent Barry. They were really all just the opposing team unless I had high school memories of them.

I don’t really approve of drafting high school players into the NBA, but I can see how it happens because these NBA-caliber types display it really early. Damon was short and young and cocky, but you would have been crazy not to play him because of what he could do.

Terrell was just great to watch. He had great moves, and class, and it was accompanied by a sense of fun. He loved to play and we loved to watch him play. People would tell stories about things he had done in games years later.

The only person that was really comparable for me was Jordy Lyden. There was something about the way he played too. He ended up getting an injury while I was gone, and it appeared to set him back some. I don’t know if he would have made the NBA without the injury, but I wouldn’t have been surprised. As it is, the last time I spoke to him he was playing Australian ball. Hey, it’s still pro.

(I need to give another shout-out here to John Mitchell, a walk-on who ended up on the Ducks. He was not at that level necessarily, but I loved watching him play. He was just so scrappy. I’m sorry I can’t qualify these descriptions, maybe it’s just that I don’t know enough about sports, but sometimes there is magic, and I appreciate it when I see it.)

So, one of those long stories is that my senior prom date was a U of O basketball player, and although it was highly platonic I did got to see him when I started college, and gradually met other players, and because it was a deeply ingrained habit in me to do things for and be supportive of men’s basketball teams, I sort of became kind of a booster/groupie for them. It basically involved baking and signs, and some appreciated it a lot, and some I became closer to than others, but I am pretty sure it sounds weird here. Still, if I let that hold me back…

Anyway, I did not become particularly close to Terrell. He lived off campus, which really affects whom you see, and he was really busy that year, which would end up being his last year in the NCAA. However, he was always very warm and courteous. His mother would come into the Burlington Coat Factory where I worked during vacations from time to time, and she was always similarly wonderful. It was no surprise when I heard that she was starting an NBA mother’s group for when players in whatever city might need some mothering. Of course she would do that. And that Terrell has worked to reinvigorate local business and build the community, of course. They’re like that. He may not have had as many commercial endorsements as some, and there were injury issues, but he had to All-Star games, Sports Illustrated voted him the best point guard in the game, and his post-basketball career looks like it will do him a lot of credit.

Anyway, this whole basketball thing was responsible for my two closest brushes with fame (plus one brush with school notoriety, again, some other time). The first one was when we were in the final four, and female managers were rare, so local newscaster Carl Click interviewed me, and it aired on a very cheesy segment of local news where I pretty much hated how I looked and sounded. I didn’t feel free to be as interesting as I would have liked. For example, he asked what the hardest aspect of my job was. The real answer would probably have been to explain that for a short time the guys had decided to change into their practice clothes in the gym instead of the locker room, which occurred while I was sweeping it, and then it became fun to see if they could get me to look. (No.) I believe that was discontinued when the coaches noticed packs of girls outside the gym before practice, peeking through the very small windows in the doors. I didn’t think I should admit that, so I just said it would sometimes get very hectic when everything was happening at once.

The second brush involves Terrell directly, so that is how I will close.

My first year in school was his third year, but as the season ended there was a lot of speculation that he would go up for the draft that year. He wasn’t commenting, but I felt that the longer he waited, the more likely he was to stay. When the press conference was finally called, I knew immediately that he was going, and yes, he was.

I will get in a final brag here and mention that I made a very close prediction on where he would get taken. I thought he would go at number eight, and he ended up being eleven. (Basically, I thought the Clippers would take him because they needed a guard, but then they traded their draft pick, so the Cavaliers took him. Still, I was closer than anyone else I know.)

So, he makes the announcement, and people meet and greet, and as I go to say congratulations he pulls me in to a side hug and our picture is snapped. I don’t remember noticing the snap, but later this guy asked me my name and relationship to Terrell, to which I said just friends.

Well, that picture ended up being about half of the front page of the Daily Emerald the next day. I can’t remember for sure if Coach Monson or Mr. Brandon were at the conference (Coach probably was), but I know his mother was there, at least two teammates were there, and their manager was there, and any one of those would have made more sense for the cover picture. And yet it was me, looking like his girlfriend, and also looking larger and chestier than was absolutely necessary, due to an unfortunate camera angle. I kept the paper for a while, but I eventually tossed it because I hated so much that it was the wrong picture and the way I looked.

That was the last time I saw Terrell. I saw his mother at least once again, and she gave me one of his rookie cards, signed, which I still have.

That next morning I was in a van with a group headed to the state capitol to observe some budget talks about school funding. It was actually a really good day to be out of town. I did get some ribbing later, but it was not like I spent the day walking past people reading it. The picture did make quite a sensation in the van, but there was also elation at the second half of the page, which we will explore more next week with the sordid history of campus political scandal.

Monday, June 12, 2006

My Weekend With A Baywatch Babe

No, it won’t be as spicy as the title suggests.

Last week I threw out a bunch of brief encounters, but I do have some more in-depth ones. Please understand, the purpose of this is not to brag. Meeting a somewhat famous person would be a silly thing to brag about anyway. For me it is interesting to go over because every event has a lot of other memories with it, and that is kind of fun.

In addition, I hope readers will think back and remember their own encounters, so that when you get asked, “Who is the most famous person you have ever met?” you will be able to answer right away, and have their own interesting memories. While I think it might be too much to say that the unexamined life is not worth living, I know you get more out of the examined one.

That being said, the part about how I have never stalked any of them was bragging.

Anyway, while I was on my mission in Modesto, one of the families I got to know was good friends with Kelly Packard, as she was very close friends with one of their daughters and basically a part of the family. I met her once when she was visiting them, and she was really nice. I am afraid I had never heard of the show she was working on at the time, “California Dreams”, but it had just started the year before and I hadn’t really been watching much television that year between school and work. I did catch an episode later, after I was home. It was kind of in the same vein as “Saved by the Bell”, only about a band instead of high school.

I didn’t think much about it beyond that. I finished my mission, went home, and after working for a while returned to school. Fall term of my senior year, I signed up to try out for the “Jeopardy”college tournament, and my tryout was going to be in Los Angeles. Hoping to reduce expenses and not be completely alone and vulnerable, I approached Sister Seamons to see if maybe I could contact Kelly and see about staying with her. She thought it was a great idea, and put us in touch, and we were all set.

I didn’t realize that she lived in Valencia, and started to feel like I was going to be a very inconvenient guest, but we basically met halfway. I flew into LAX, and then took a ground shuttle to Burbank, where she and her boyfriend picked me up and we went back to her place. They were going to go to see “Ace Ventura 2” and I could have gone with them, but this was before I could stand Jim Carrey (I will never watch “Dumb and Dumber”, regardless.). I stayed at her place and watched “Stargate” on TV.

The next morning she drove me to the studio in LA, picking up her costar Jennie Kwan on the way, and they visited while I took the test. I called them when I was ready and we went back to her place, Kelly and I met up with her boyfriend again for church, and later that evening back to Burbank where I took the shuttle to LAX again, doing everything in reverse order.

Kelly was a wonderful hostess, but I do not feel like I was a great guest, that maybe I was too stiff and uncomfortable to be really warm and friendly. Naturally, I also did not pass the tryout, which is a bummer because I have always wanted to go on “Jeopardy”.

I suppose part of the problem was my naturally low self-esteem and occasional shyness. I can be bold, but sometimes it is really hard. A friend once talked about sitting for a socially awkward dog, and I felt like that was a perfect description of me. Except when I said that she explained that his awkwardness manifested itself as inappropriate peeing, and I have never had a problem with that. I’m a lot more secure in myself now, but this was over ten years ago. Naturally I was anxious about the tryout, as would be expected.

I was also obsessing over a boy who was living in California, wondering if I could see him, or talk to him, and in a move that still makes me wince over a decade later, I faked a wrong number to talk to him a little before the trip.

These are all fairly typical, but were not my worst problems at the time.

About three weeks before the trip, my mother called me crying because my father had walked out. It had not been a good marriage for a long time, and he had not been a good husband for a lot longer, but it still hurts and it was done in a cruel way, and as I listened to her crying I felt utterly helpless. The first time I would be able to get home and see anyone at all was that weekend, and so I could not be there to help them. Also, it was midterms, and I did not see how I could get through that.

A few days before the trip, one of my dorm’s resident assistant’s Frank, and his friend Michael went hiking and never came back. They were both experienced climbers, but a storm came up and in addition to probably contributing to their misfortune, it definitely hampered the search efforts. As I was leaving, it was right at the point where you know they are probably dead, but can’t quite give up, and I sensed that the giving up point would come while I was gone, and I did not feel good about that. But I had already payed for the plane and bus tickets, and it was going to be my first chance to see my mother and sisters since everything had happened, so I went.

I guess sometimes the best you can do is not visibly be a basket case, and I like to think I achieved that.

Better times were ahead. Although my father’s departure changed a lot of things, most of them were really for the better. I not only survived midterms but made Dean’s List that quarter (after trying and failing for my entire college career, I got it then and that spring term). My mother and younger sisters and I took a wonderful vacation that spring, too, that we really needed. However, Kelly and I did not become best friends forever, and not because of anything wrong on her end.

Nonetheless, I am glad to see that she is still working. I admit I have never seen one of her Baywatch episodes, either, so all I have really seen her on is when she was a guest on Arsenio Hall, but do you know how much television is out there? I can’t watch it all, and my not watching something is not necessarily a comment on the quality of the show or the cast. Also, as mentioned previously, I rarely try and take control of the remote. It’s just easier that way.
Next week: Sports!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Semi-Close Encounters

Before I start, I’d like to say that I love getting comments, and I always felt that as long as it did not use offensive language or reveal my secret identity, I would publish any comment. I mean, I allowed the post on people having four dogs being crazy, and I certainly don’t agree with that.

Anyway, I found a new exception. I had two comments tonight and one was a page long discourse on karma. I’m sorry, that’s just too long. It’s not that I don’t believe in Buddhism; I don't, but that doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of the karmic exploration in "My Name is Earl". It’s not that I didn’t get the connection (maybe because I felt good about pulling Jason’s hair?). No, it was just too long. A comment should be no more than a few sentences. However, if you have your own blog with a relevant topic, I might be up to posting a link.

Now that we have that settled, it also occurs to me that a throwaway reference in the Bodyguard could have led to one of three different reactions:

“I knew Melissa because she was dating Aaron, who had the locker next to mine and whom I liked, even though he was a year younger than me and a drug dealer.”

1. (For those who knew me then.) Either “I remember him!” or “I don’t remember him.”

2. (For those who knew me in high school.) Aaron was a drug dealer?

3. (For those who met me later.) You liked a drug dealer?

And yes, I like liked him, not just liked him. For the first group, hey, if you want to wax nostalgic, give me a call. I liked a lot of boys in ninth grade—this could last for hours!

Second group, obviously it was not that Aaron. I mean, it’s no Kevin, Scott, or Jason, but I have known several Aarons.

Third, of course I did. His parents didn’t pay him very much attention, and it seemed obvious to me that his girlfriend only liked him for the things he bought her, and that he did not realize it. He easily had my sympathy that way, and since he was good-looking it was a shoo-in. Please refer back to “I liked a lot of boys in ninth grade.”

At this point, some of you may have words like co-dependent, over-function, and obvious self-esteem issues going through your mind now. What can I say? You’re absolutely right, at least in that context. I have grown quite a bit since then. We could do a multi-part series on my romantic history, and it may happen at some time (the horror!), but this is not that time.

Part of my over functioning is that I do like to get other people together, and so I have developed a matchmaking program, and I am always looking for new getting to know you questions and things like that.

One that has always stymied me is “Who is the most famous person you have ever met?”

When put on the spot, I go blank, and can only think of really lame things like when both gubernatorial candidates came to speak to us at Girl’s State (not because of that, but because of their existing positions), or that cousin of the Jets or the Marie Osmond’s ex-nanny. Maybe it was the time I helped Alaa Abdelnaby (former Trail Blazer, back when I liked them) get backstage entrance into the Memorial Coliseum and hitchhiked past security with him. Couldn’t I do better than that?

As it happens, I can. This will be a three part series on my encounters with the famous, maybe not so rich, and writing about them will burn the incidents into my memory so that I will be able to answer when asked.

The first two will just be brief encounters in autograph lines so I will treat them in the same posting. The first one occurred when I was about ten.

Most of my family is really into airplanes, and I spent a lot of time being dragged to air shows. I am afraid they bored me. Essentially, you are sitting in the hot sun waiting for planes to fly by, and no matter how big the name is and how flashy they are, there is a certain sameness to them.

At one show, Pappy Boyington happened to be there, and you could get his autograph. We did watch “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, so I knew the name, and it was kind of amazing to me that he was there. This was someone out of history, and even though World War II isn’t really that long ago (even more so twenty-two years ago) I was impressed. I did not know he was from Washington (I’m pretty sure this was at Painefield in Everett) so it was just really cool and I was determined to get his autograph.

Unfortunately, I did not have anything good for him to autograph, so I waited in line with a pretty pathetic scrap of paper. When I got up there he and his wife were really nice and they thought they could do better than that. They rummaged around and came up with a copy of the poem “High Flight” with a picture of clouds and a plane, and he autographed that for me.

Well of course he completely won my heart right there and then. For all I know, he had a whole box of the poems, but it didn’t matter. They extended themselves for this insignificant kid, and it made me feel great. And it is such a great poem too. I had never heard of it before, but it became one of my favorites, on its own merits and because of the memory.

The next event happened in college. One thing that was wonderful about college was that there are always guest speakers and symposia and all sorts of things going on that you could attend. Cultural critic and essayist Stanley Crouch came for one presentation on campus, and then he had a separate appearance with Wynton Marsalis at the Hult Center where they were doing sort of a panel discussion. Wynton also was going to be doing a concert on another night, but there was a charge for the concert and the discussion was free. I could usually only go to free things.

Anyway, I attended, and afterwards you could talk to them and get autographs, and I had brought a flyer from campus that mentioned both events but had a picture of Stanley. It just worked out that the line got me to Wynton first, and I guess he had not seen the flyer from anything else because he laughed and said, “Stanley, she’s got your picture.”

I suppose in most cases, Wynton would be the headliner, but that’s just how it worked out. Anyway, they were both great as well, and the discussions were interesting.

I do have some closer encounters with even more famous people, but I will just throw out some more shameless name-dropping. As to people you would only know because of church, I have met Jacob De Jager, Jeffrey R. Holland, Joseph B. Wirthlin, Gary Bednar, Mary Ellen Edmunds, Kenneth Cope, and John Bytheway.

From college, I also listened to Ken Kesey introduce Jerry Brown at a political rally, and after attending a couple of events with Emery Barnes, I interviewed him for the history department newsletter. I had an alumni column, and he was a U of O history major. When he came to speak he was one of the first black politicians elected to Canadian legislative office, as well as the first popularly elected speaker of the house.

On the local scene, I once sat in front of Vera Katz at the ballet, and behind Jonathan Nicholas, local columnist, at the Drammys. Two guys I know from high school, Ted Douglass and Andy Buzan founded a local comedy troupe and have appeared in commercials. At Tony & Tina’s Wedding, Tony kissed me on the cheek.

Finally, those two candidates were Barbara Roberts, who became Oregon’s first woman governor, and Dave Frohnmayer, who became president of the University of Oregon so I saw him on campus all the time.

And I would just like to go on the record as saying I have never stalked any of them.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Bodyguard

This one is kind of a cheat, because it is a piece I wrote for something else, but I am already a week late, and I have a lot of stuff to do, so I'm going for it. I did at least make some edits.

In school I know was thought of as the smart one, whom you could ask for help with your homework, as well as the nice one, from whom you could borrow money and probably not pay it back. What people may not have necessarily realized is that I was also the tough one. At least, I thought I was. I knew I could handle myself in any situation, and, without being the type to start fights, I was always kind of hoping for a chance.

Yes, I was familiar with the concept of turning the other cheek, but I did not have much interest in it. For example, the last day of second grade, when our bus driver ill-advisedly said we could have a water fight on the way home, everyone brought water guns and spray bottles. I had none. When Jason S., whom I did not like anyway, stationed himself right in front of me, and started spraying, despite me being an unarmed girl, I grabbed his hair and used it to hold him to the seat until we got to his stop. When I let him up his face was beet red. I knew he was humiliated, and I was thrilled!

It was one of only two times I have had to defend myself physically. Generally I found that just being ready, confident in your clear path to victory, you did not even need to fight because your opponents would back off. The most striking example was the day I saved Lise.

Lise was in eighth grade when I was in ninth grade, and we were friends in spite of being very different. She was pale, blond, thin, and timid. Kind of rabbit-like actually, and I would probably be some sort bear, I guess. Her church was anti-Mormon, and as she kept failing to convert me, the stress of caring about someone who would not be saved really began to interfere with our friendship. I guess she eventually just consigned me to Hell, because by the time she and her brother transferred to a Christian school we had grown apart. This was before all of that.

We had made friends on the bus, and that was where the trouble started. We had just barely pulled out one day, and something ticked off the driver. I don’t know if something was thrown or someone shouted a bad word or what, but the fact that I can’t remember that part makes me think she blew it out of proportion. She pulled back into the school parking lot, and suddenly the vice principal was there and our bus was not going to move until the culprit was identified.

Although I did not do things to get in trouble, I still adhered to the basic code of the playground in that you do not snitch. For Lise, all she could think about was that if she was late her father would be mad, and she was terrified of her father. I don’t think he was abusive or anything, just stern and not comfortable. Anyway, she got off the bus with the vice principal, came back on, and the bus started for home. As subtle as that was, why they even bothered going off the bus I do not know.

Soon the news circulated that the next day, everyone was going to get off at her stop and gang up on her. I told her not to worry about it, because I would walk her home.

It was important to dress appropriately. My usual coat that year was my father’s old motorcycle jacket. I accessorized it with a studded leather wristband. I probably would never have bough either item, but I loved them both. The wristband was found while I was in line for the Matterhorn at Disneyland. I spied it on the ground from a few curves away, and hoped no one else would claim it before I got to that part of the line. It wasn’t an every day thing. I would wear it on test days or special occasions, when I wanted that extra edge. For bodyguard service it was a definite necessity.

The bus route was basically a square, from 170th turning on Blanton, then down 165th, turning right on Farmington, and doubling back onto 170th to complete the route. My stop was one of the first and Lise’s was the last. The bus progressed along the route with no one getting off. You would think after her overreaction the day before, the driver might have responded a little to the lack of exits, but we were all unusually quiet and she probably liked that.

We were sitting in front so got off first. There was a group of about seven to nine kids behind us. Part of the strategy was to not look back, just keep walking, so I only had the one brief glimpse. If I try to remember, some faces almost appear, but the only two I can identify with certainty are Melissa and Cheryl. I knew Melissa because she was dating Aaron, who had the locker next to mine and whom I liked, even though he was a year younger than me and a drug dealer. I knew Cheryl from church, and yet somehow I was not shocked to see her there. I bet her parents would have been surprised. It was not an all-girl group despite that. I think Tom might have been there, but I am not sure. I hope not. If all the teasing he took about his mentally ill mother did not turn him against bullying, I don’t know what would have.

Lise had a very long driveway, so the perfect attack spot would have been halfway up. They would not have necessarily attracted attention from either the road or the house. But nothing happened. They followed for a few steps, then disappeared. I spent a little while at Lise’s house, then walked home unmolested.

I feel confident that I did the right thing. If I had not been there, she would surely have been jumped, and hurt, and her father would totally have pressed charges, allowing the ugliness to escalate. Still, it was all pretty stupid. Why didn’t they attack her the next day when I did not escort her? Does a group attack really require that much planning? And how pathetic is it nine against one is acceptable, but throw an extra person in there and all bets are off? And how long would they have kept us on the bus if she had kept her mouth shut?

I don’t know what the answers are, but I think of all my experiences, this one may be the most definitively junior high. That and the beetle thing.

Just imagine Whitney Houston blaring over the credits. I’m not saying that I will always love Lise, but I like the song and it’s one of the last songs I remember of Whitney’s before she turned into a strung out crack ho.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Spork Always Shines on TV

Little Sister J was horrified when I said I wasn’t going to be watching the news anymore. It wasn’t even planned. When I started listing the reasons why I did not think the local news was too much of a problem in terms of political bias I just realized that watching it was really a waste of time. I’ve always got more things that I want to do than I really have time for, so putting time into such a poor quality product is just silly. Sorry Wayne and Shawna!

(This is off topic, but Wayne Garcia has always seemed very plasticky to me. He has kind of a sheen.)

Anyway, we can always talk about television some more. Living with three other people, plus one frequent (like every night) visitor, I don’t try and take control over the TV very often. It’s just not worth the effort. I approve of Little Sister M’s obsession with House, and can tolerate the frequent viewings of Little House on the Prairie, but if I was taking control, the schedule would be somewhat different. Priorities would be My Name is Earl, Scrubs, and The Office. I have heard good things about Everybody Hates Chris, but have only been able to see an episode recently.

I’m not sure that I like it. It may have been a weaker episode of theirs, or that I wasn’t paying enough attention, or it could even be that it just doesn’t appeal to me, despite my fondness for Terry Crews. However, I can’t rule out the possibility that it just hit too close to home.

After establishing that their poverty and Dad’s thrifty nature means living on generic products, Dad gets lucky and stumbles across $200 in food stamps. This means that Mom can go shopping for brand names, and she has a great time doing so, but when she gets to checkout an acquaintance shows up, and Mom’s pride causes her to, instead of paying with the food stamps, pull out the $100 grocery money that was going to be freed up to use for something else, like maybe a family outing or the light bill. Due to additional mix-ups, the food stamps pay for Mom’s hair appointment and the lights get shut off.

It just hurts! It good have been such a windfall. The groceries were around $98, so they could have had another shopping trip, plus electricity, and gone to see Rocky III. It’s not the movie I would have picked, but still!

It’s not that poverty jokes put me off, but losing a good chance like that hurts a lot. So I may give it another chance, but it may be too painful for me. I know people who can’t find The Office or Dilbert funny, and I understand why, but it doesn’t affect me that way.

Regardless of my personal hang-ups, I’m sure it is still a good show, and there is something to be said for that. There have been a lot of horrible sitcoms out there.

I think the worst that I have seen personally is Full House. Now, I admit that I did not watch it when it was on originally, so I don’t have any nostalgia cushioning the impact. That being said, it really sucks. How did it last for eight years? Even if it was a good show, it would crumble under the weight of having spawned the evil empire known as Mary-Kate and Ashley. As it is, there’s just no excuse. I much preferred the blended household of Family Matters.

I think after The A-team wrapped up we really only watched sitcoms, so I can’t really comment on television dramas of the eighties or nineties, but I know one of the most disturbing things I have seen on television was an episode of Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman.

I have only seen the one episode, and that was fairly recently on cable, so I don’t know if this was typical. Anyway, a wagon full of sick orphans pulls into town, and Dr. Quinn and the preacher try to help, but none of the other townspeople are really interested. Yes, the storekeeper teaches one orphan that smoking is bad, and the oldest girl almost gets a job as a prostitute. That falls through because the current prostitute decides that it is more important to sacrifice herself and save the young girl from a degrading life where she can support herself and her crippled brother. (I guess there’s only room in town for one hooker.)

Meanwhile, the time Jane Seymour is spending with the new orphans and the preacher (who would like to marry her and adopt them all) alienates her boyfriend and her old orphans, so they kick the entire wagon-load out of town. We’re sorry, we can’t help you, but keep going and stick together and we’re sure something will work out. Yeah, if by working out you mean dying one by one of illness and starvation until the rest are devoured by coyotes.

I can see where it might happen in real life, but it’s not a good thing. And since this is not real life, you don’t have to construct such a dire scenario. I bet the episode writer secretly hated the entire cast, and wanted to make them look bad. Sneaky.

Next week I will try and talk about something other than television, but it may be hard. Do you know that when I try to remember childhood summer vacations, the first thing that comes to mind is watching The Bionic Woman? It was on around ten in the morning I think, on channel 12. I know we rode bikes and played hide and seek and all kinds of tag, and walk to Cook’s Market, and when I wanted to be alone I would curl up by a fan with a book and glass bottle of pop out of the refrigerator, but yeah, the first thing that comes to mind is Jaime Sommers, and that sound effect they used to convey bionic-ness.

Why do they slow down the footage to convey running really fast anyway? Wouldn’t it make more sense to speed it up?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

At The Movies

I’ve had a little more time for movie viewing this week, so did get to watch both Outfoxed and Rififi from my Blockbuster* queue. I suppose Netflix* is better known, but I got a special introductory offer to Blockbuster Online, and went with them. One thing I like about them is that in addition to the mailed DVDs, I also get two free store rentals a month, which is nice if you suddenly get an impulse to watch something now.

For our local news, we watch the Fox affiliate, mainly out of habit and because it is on at 10 and we are all really tired by 11. It used to be that KPTV 12 was the UPN affiliate and the Fox affiliate was KPDX 13 (49 on UHF), but they switched a few years back. Since that time, the amount of technical difficulties, spelling errors, and other issues has gone up, plus there is just way too much coverage of American Idol. We tended to blame the decline in quality on the departure of John Sears, who is a nice man and a good news director. KPDX denied an increase in errors when asked. The American Idol coverage is, of course, just blatant pimping of their own product, and every channel does that. The Channel 8 (NBC affiliate) has had behind the scenes stories on ER and so on. It just seems to be worse with Fox.

Anyway, Fox news seems to leave you knowing less about world affairs, much less than people who get their news from public broadcasting. I guess I am not really surprised. I mean, it might not even be that viewers get less informed by watching Fox; Fox might attract the less informed to start with.

I doubt it has much of an affect on what we watch, because the local news is more about local shootings and fires and conflicts between the police and City Hall, plus their weekly exposes of restaurants that do poorly with health inspections and investigations of men trolling for slutty teenage girls over the internet. Therefore, the extreme and unrepentant political bias that you get on their nationwide news or “news” shows (Hannity and Colmes, The O’Reilly Factor, etc.,) are probably not an issue for my family, at least not to a large extent. Still, going over the issues that have already been mentioned, it’s hard to feel like they are a good time investment. So, I won’t be watching any TV news for a while. I don’t want to risk any dumbening (that’s a Simpson’s reference, a Fox product of which I approve).

I also saw a theater movie this week, Take the Lead. Last week I gave Mad Hot Ballroom the victory over Spellbound for documentaries. I also give Mad Hot Ballroom the victory over Take the Lead, which is basically its dramatic version.

Naturally, there were plot contrivances and shortcuts, but one expects this in a dance movie. You put up with it to get to the dancing. I don’t think these plot contrivances were so bad that needed to take me out of the film. We had kids in permanent detention who did not have the personality or study habits of kids that you would expect in permanent detention, but I can live with that. You had a ridiculously prejudiced math teacher, protesting the resources wasted on these loser kids. That one doesn’t make sense because he refused to take time to cover detention himself, so when an unpaid volunteer starts covering detention, that should be a relief. However, maybe they knew people were going to think, Oh, it’s a cross between Mad Hot Ballroom and Stand and Deliver, so to differentiate they made the math teacher an uncaring jerk. Finally, they had the climactic dance contest, Caitlin’s cotillion, and Rock’s illegal job all happen on the same night. Well, that’s just a film staple. You’ve got to let those kinds of coincidences happen.

In addition, the movie had some good things going for it. I thought the acting was okay, especially the kids. (Make that the actors portraying kids. The guy who played Ramos is in his thirties.) I liked that they did not show the new kids automatically winning every prize (and that the three-way tango was scored appropriately). In fact, you only see the disposition of one prize, and that is fine because winning is not the point— being able to compete and hold their own is the point.

Nope, the problem is the dancing. It just wasn’t magical enough. In fact, the three-way tango was kind of tacky. Yes, tango is very sexual, but it is also elegant and generally classy. Usually, when I come out of a dance movie there is an extra spring in my step, thinking of the moves, and I have a deep need to buy the soundtrack. I’m not buying the soundtrack.

(Also, the poster totally has the wrong look and feel, including the tagline. Never follow? They have a part where they talk about following. It does not work for this movie.)

I have season tickets to the opera, because I know that even at its worst I will usually get something out of it. I will sometimes get tickets for a particular ballet or other dance season, but generally I just pick and choose performances. The reason for this is that although when dance is good, it moves me more than anything else, when it is bad it is a really big disappointment, and often vulgar.

So Take the Lead was not awful, but it was disappointing. I wasn’t expecting it to be another Strictly Ballroom, or even Dirty Dancing, but I was hoping it could at least be in the realm of Dance with Me (Cheyenne and Vanessa Williams), which would not be considered a great movie, but it was exhilarating to watch the dancing and then I bought the soundtrack. For live dance, Trey McIntyre is a talented choreographer, but he also finds some amazing music that you may never have heard before but you are glad that he found it.

I guess my point is that there is better stuff out there, but you wouldn’t know it from walking around the theater. Movie posters have shown me that upcoming films include a third Fast and the Furious movie, a remake of The Omen, a remake of My Friend Flicka (which might not even suck, but how dry is the idea well now?), and, of utmost concern, Little Man, a Wayans brothers’ flick where “A wannabe dad (Shawn Wayans) mistakes a vertically challenged criminal on the lam (Marlon Wayans) as his newly adopted son.” Okay, White Chicks was better than I expected it to be, and this might end up being better also, but if you saw the poster you would not have high hopes.

Oh well, theaters are really expensive anyway. I’m just hoping that the Grand Lodge will get in King Kong. I have not seen it yet, I think a big screen would be beneficial, but it’s pretty much second-run now, the Valley has already had it, and Grand Lodge is the only McMenamin’s that is really accessible for me. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Inspired by The Office, Part 2

If I am in fact going to celebrate my birthday in May by going out and doing karaoke, I could use some suggestions on a spot. I know nothing about the scene. I would like it to be smoke-free. (I doubt alcohol-free exists. Even people who don’t drink like knowing that the audience is drunk.) Most of all, it is important that there is a good music selection. When they show it on television, it seems like everything is either country or elevator music. The big exceptions that recur again and again are “Respect” and “I’ve Got You Babe”. Well, I’m pretty sure I can’t pull off Aretha Franklin, and no one sounds good singing “I’ve Got You Babe”, including Sonny and Cher.

Anyway, as long as we are thinking about The Office, Television Without Pity did an interview with BJ Novak (Ryan the temp), and he made a point that it is easier to show than to explain:

“I think that really good television is at a higher level than a lot of movies. I think they haven't had that big clearing house that reality TV was, where it was like, "Okay, we don't like this kind of crap that's imitating other crap that's imitating other crap. We're going to show you how people really are for two years. There'll be nothing else on the air but videos showing actual people, and then you can start again, with television imitating real life." Movies haven't had that, I guess, because you see a comedy in the theatres, and they're hitting these familiar beats that have nothing to do with real people's experience or making fun of things that are really in people's lives. And I think, you know, The Office, Earl, South Park, the shows I mentioned are kind of more based in the real rhythms of conversation and stuff. So it's actually a little harder to watch movies, working on TV.”

It really struck me, and I recounted it to a few people (that’s why I know that it is just easier to quote directly). One friend said, “So, just do nothing but documentaries for a few years?”

Well, that might not be a bad idea. This year, before May, we have already had twelve movies sneak into theaters without being screened by critics. Remakes and sequels are not always bad, but there have definitely been better periods in film history. Maybe this is why we are seeing more documentaries with mainstream success.

If nothing else, the making of a good documentary requires passion about a subject. I seem to recall reading about one film for which the makers collected over 800 hours of footage. I believe 200 hours is a little more common, but for the Metallica one it was about 1200 hours. That is a huge commitment, not just for the film time, but then you need to edit it. It doesn’t mean everyone does it well, but you can find some interesting stuff.

Here are some films that I have enjoyed in the past year or so. Oddly, I seem to have seen two films in every category, so I am going to treat them in pairs. Remember, just because I may say one is better is no reason not to see both.

Surfing: Riding Giants and Step Into Liquid

Riding Giants was the first one I saw, focusing on big wave surfing. I’m glad I saw it first because I enjoyed it, and it was great, but Step Into Liquid was so much more engaging. Riding Giants is largely historical, so there is some footage but a lot of it is interview. Step Into Liquid follows people into the surf, now, in places you might not expect. Maybe these surfers have less ego and more sense of fun. Plus, the locations and cinematography are just gorgeous. None of which is to say that Riding Giants is bad; when they ran it on TV recently I settled right back in. Still, Step Into Liquid was more exciting and also more accessible. I would like to try surfing some day; but I know I will not be looking for the big waves.

Middle East: Control Room and Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories

This one is more of a toss-up. I would say the quality of Control Room is higher, but that Inside Iraq may be more important. They are both important and both gripping.

Control Room spends a year with the Arab network Al-Jazeera. They get kind of a bad name over here. The film even shows footage of Donald Rumsfeld discounting the accuracy of some of their reports, and yet you get to see them trying to find balance and accuracy in their reporting, and you know that it is incredibly important to have a source of news over there that is not run by clerics or political leaders. You also see that despite disagreeing with the invasion, many of the staff express a great respect for America and for the Constitution. I think I would have to trust them over Rumsfeld.

Inside Iraq is just a guy, Mike Shiley, wandering around Iraq with a camera, visiting mine sweepers, a children’s hospital, a Christian church, and various markets and gatherings, as well as spending some time with the military. There is sort of a homemade feel to it, which is only natural, and the footage is interspersed with commentary he filmed later. The commentary is a bit repetitive, because it keeps coming back to one message, but that message is a good one: Look at the other side. Stop and think about this. Those points are why I say Control Room was better made, but Inside Iraq hit me harder on a visceral level, especially when he gives updates on some of the people that he spent time with.

You should really see both. When I saw it, Inside Iraq had not gotten wide distribution (in my case, the filmmaker brought the movie to Cinema 21 and hung around for Q & A), but you can order it at Control Room should be available through normal channels.

Rock & Roll: End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

Okay, I can’t be completely fair here, because the Ramones are on my personal greatest bands of all time list, and I don’t really like Metallica. I believe they are talented and good at what they do, but it is not my thing. The younger sisters love them, though, so we had to watch.

Oddly, the Ramones are the ones with a song called Psychotherapy, but Metallica is the band who gets psychotherapy, doing group sessions and rehab and working out all of the angst that led to powerful metal music, but does build tension. I am interested in psychology of course, so it was interesting on that level, but also, I really wanted them to be able to work it out. After sharing so much and having been through so much, it would be a shame if they had to split up, and even worse than a shame if you never do work out your emotional garbage. My strongest feeling, however, was deep sympathy for Kirk Hammett, the peacemaker caught in the middle. (Bob Rock too, but he would not be spending as much time with them.) For Kirk’s sake especially, I am glad that they got help. Two final thoughts on it: Megadeath is not number 2 to Metallica’s number 1, and get over it anyway, Dave Mustaine.

End of the Century was just excellent. You really get a feel for the history of the scene, and there are some great interviews. One of my other greatest bands is the Clash, and it really reminded me how much we lost when Joe Strummer died. He was so personable and well-spoken, and he’s in it because the Ramones really inspired the Clash (by saying don’t wait until you acquire more musical skill, just go for it now). Also, I feel more justified in despising the Sex Pistols after seeing it because, and I am simplifying this, they ruined the scene for others, rather than being a cornerstone of what punk should be.

I believe the movie conveys a strong anti-drug message with pretty much all footage of Dee Dee Ramone. It’s not just that he died of an overdose; it’s the decay that preceded it. And all right, I don’t even know how many brain cells he had to lose, and I don’t think he considered himself particularly good-looking before, but still, ouch.

Actually, this is a band that might have been well-advised to hire their own life coach/counselor, but I don’t care. I love them anyway.

Childhood Education: Mad Hot Ballroom and Spellbound

I’ve taken some ballroom dancing and I was my school spelling champion three times (I always got knocked out in district, same kid at least twice), so both spoke to me.

Spellbound has some very touching moments and some sad and scary moments. Most of the scary moments involve the parents. You get a good look at eight different families, and the differences between them are amazing as their children all head to the same place. I’m afraid there was one major irritant for me though, with this one, extreme nerd kid with a Horshack laugh. They may have spent too much time on him, but they main thing that bugged me is that in the after interview he keeps insisting that they pronounced the word he missed (banns) wrong. He thought he heard a “d” on the end. They did not pronounce it wrong. It’s on tape.

To be fair, I have had the exact same thing happen, so I understand. I missed “omnipresent” because I had never heard such a word or had any idea that it existed. I was thinking omnipotent or omniscient, and the sample sentence they used, “Some students feel like their teachers are omnipresent,” did not help at all. The word is too unfamiliar to the brain to compute. I get it. However, the professional announcer repeated the word multiple times, with witnesses and people checking for accuracy, and you just need to accept that it’s not him, it’s you.

The kids in Mad Hot Ballroom do sometimes have these attitudes where they think they know more than they do, as is normal, but instead of focusing on eight individuals, they are focusing on three classes with multiple participants, so there is less of a chance for anyone to dominate. Plus, there’s dancing, which pretty much always wins me over. Some moments I really liked are when teachers cut loose after a meeting and do their own dancing, including the electric slide, and the look of rapture on one mother’s face as she watches her child compete. It’s good stuff.

There are more, but these are the ones that come to mind as the most compelling. Still, I just got Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, so we will see how that goes.