Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Women's Soccer Is Not For Women...


That is my theory, anyway, based, admittedly on a very small ethnographic study.  Still, I think I'm right.  Girls, yes.  Women, not so much.

I have seen part or all of the last three matches played by the American women in the World Cup.  Each of those matches has seen an increase in viewership in the United States.  But in each case, the women I was with had no interest in the match or its outcome.

Tonight, at my house, there were 9 people here to watch the match-- 2 women, 3 men, and 4 boys.  While the boys watched USA vs. Germany with varying degrees of interest and the men were glued to the entire match, the women sat outside away from the television and talked.  I know that is not a significant sample, but I still think my theory is right.  Here's why:

1.  The level of play in women's soccer is high enough that men who love to watch men play enjoy watching the women play, too.  That is not always the case, even in professional women's basketball (not my judgement, that comes from my sports fiend friends).

2. Women, at least those past 40, did not grow up with much soccer contact, so they often don't really understand, or even connect with, the game.

3.  Girls, on the other hand, have had nationwide success with soccer, starting with their schooling and pre-schooling, so they are all about the USA women's team.

4. Men are more likely to plug into "patriotic" notions, are more likely to care about such U.S. vs. The World kinds of things, and, with the 4th of July approaching, the idea of an American team moving on to a finals showdown on July 5th is like red, white, and blue candy.

5. Since the start of the Women's World Cup, the American women have made it to at least the semifinals every single tournament.  Their program has been more successful than the men's program from the beginning, and male viewers have figured that out.  If you like World Cup soccer and you are a U.S.A. fan, you get to hang with the women longer.

6. Men like to watch in-shape women.  While Team USA is not necessarily filled with "lookers," I do have friends who hold "sports crushes" (a term I just invented) on Hope Solo and Alex Morgan.

7. Women, on the other hand, are, perhaps, not as inclined to cheer on younger, more in-shape women.  And that's all I have to say about that.

8. Soccer is growing in the U.S. at all levels, and the Women's World Cup takes advantage of that.  Certainly the women are deserving of a loyal following in their own right, but there is little doubt that their tournament feeds the needs of men who don't want to have to wait four years for another World Cup.

9. Some early members of the U.S. women's team established themselves as sex symbols, and there continues to be a residual effect from that.  Again, small study, but men can name and identify more players on the women's team then they can on the men's.

10.  Men typically like sports, watching sports, all sports, more than women do, and the Women's World Cup is the flavor of the moment, positioned in between the end of the NBA and NHL, before football, and during the dog days of seemingly-inconsequential baseball.

So, yeah, it will be cool when America's women get behind America's women's team in the world's sport, but that isn't likely to happen for some time.  Too many societal conditions have to change. Or, maybe I'm just wrong about all of this.  I do know that the other men and I are already making plans for the final on Sunday.  Our wives, well, God bless them, they will probably have to come along to support us more than the team.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Conservative Mind

The recent slate of Supreme Court decisions, which continued today and not necessarily in a way that demonstrates or doesn't that the court has moved to the "left," has brought the difference between the liberals and conservatives to the forefront once again, perhaps more dramatically than ever.  Liberals support Obamacare.  Conservatives decry the ruling in favor of gay marriage.  Liberals are outraged that a controversial lethal injection drug may still be used.  Conservatives are likely bothered that Texans have a bit more access to abortions than what was legislated.

But we are an "issues" people, and we tend to get caught up in those issues without giving too much focus on the philosophies behind those stances on the issues.

And so, I am here to remind everyone about a simple and basic truth about conservatives:  they don't want things to change.  They want to preserve the status quo.  And if their understanding of the status quo has been lost, then they want to return to it.

That is the perspective in a nutshell, and obvious though my comments are, they are worth reminding everyone, conservatives included, what they stand for.  Like I said, we tend to get lost in the issues and to forget the ideology.  SIDEBAR: If some reader wants to go after the liberal mind, I leave that to them.  I am too close to those positions to convey their flaws adequately.

Yes, conservatives want things the way that they were.  And the way that they were tended to focus on a white male-controlled society, so anything that does not jive with that perspective is not going to fit.  So if you are wondering why there is support among conservatives for ideas as disparate as the Confederate flag, a "scorched earth" immigration policy, no increase in the minimum wage or in equalizing women's salaries, or even resistance to global warming, you need only return to the original mantra: conservatives do not want things to change.

People like me often refer to cognitive dissonance in conservatives, that notion that so many conservatives refuse to believe the evidence in front of their faces if it is contrary to their long-held beliefs.  But we are wrong.  There is no dissonance; we just think that there should be.  Conservatives see the world like a Talking Heads song: "Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was."  Nothing more, nothing less.

To try to distinguish or to equivocate between various types of conservatives--social conservatives, religious conservatives, fiscal conservatives--misses the point absolutely.  Conservatives want things to be the way that they were.  Whether it takes limits on social programs, a lack of ideological evolution, a biblical standard, or the monetary policies of the past does not really matter.  All conservatives want to get back to where they once belonged.

That is why the modern conservative, in whatever form or background, feels legitimately persecuted. It is not a pose.  It is a terror.  We/they/someone has taken steps to remove the world that once was and to replace it with the world that can be.  Is there anything more frightening to a conservative?  I don't think so.  Because the world that can be is not the world that is, nor is it necessarily the world that will be.  It is a minefield world where any and everything could blow up at any moment with just the slightest misstep.  Back when they ran things with little challenge to their rule, they were quite comfortable with the world that was.  Why wouldn't they want to get it back?

I suppose that what surprises me the most is the young person who seeks the conservative rewind.  To seek a world that he or she most likely never knew seems counter to the idealism of youth.  But I am misguided again, for what are families, what is society better at than creating fear?  In my own liberal perspective, I love to hear the stories of, for example, my father's past, but I've never had any desire to go there.

What liberals want at any given moment is likely confused and contradictory, even for those of us who carry the torch.  But conservatives?  That's easy.  They want the known world, the child who says "Sir" and "Ma'am," the person who knows his or her place in the established order.  I may have wanted that myself from time to time, but then I laughed at myself, for I knew that it could never be, should never have been.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Song, An Album

We all know the knocks against Spotify; heck, I've leveled some them myself.  But there are pleasures, too.  And some of those pleasures reflect the exact reason that I'm glad to have transitioned to Spotify.  In particular, the chance to go back and experience half-remembered songs and overlooked albums (which they were when they came out), music that isn't affected by Spotify's cheap reimbursement rates, makes the service an almost-daily unexpected pleasure.  What can I think of that I once liked but haven't heard in forever?

Well, today, I have a song and an album on my mind.  The song I listened to all morning as I was driving around.  Then, I found the chords to it online and tried it out as a possible song for the band I am in.  The album I've been listening from the afternoon, coming from Costco, into the evening.  I'm listening to it as I type this.

The song is "The Horses" by Rickie Lee Jones.  The album is Little Stevie Orbit by Steve Forbert.

Jones' song came out in 1989, the opening cut on Flying Cowboys, produced by Walter Becker of Steely Dan.  It's a good record, but "The Horses" is, by far, the standout track, arguably one of the best verse/chorus songs in the history of popular music.  Yes, I'm making that claim.  To hear it, you can imagine a crooner singing it, or you wish Springsteen had dueted on it when he brought Jones out at Jazzfest last year.

The lyric, perhaps aimed at a child, transcends time and place, transcends the rules of the universe.  It embraces all of human imagination, especially for a child who doesn't yet grasp those rules:

We will fly
Way up high
Where the cold wind blows
Or in the sun
Laughing having fun
With the people that she knows
And if the situation
Should keep us separated
You know the world won't fall apart
And you will free the beautiful bird
That's caught inside your heart
Can't you hear her?
Oh she cries so loud
Casts her wild note
Over water and cloud
That's the way it's gonna be, little darlin'
We'll be riding on the horses, yeah
Way up in the sky, little darlin'
And if you fall I'll pick you up, pick you up

The words are beautiful, but the musical transition from verse to chorus is among the most redemptive I've ever heard.  Find it, on Spotify, YouTube, or elsewhere and see if you don't hit replay.  Repeatedly.

Forbert's album came out in 1980.  It is a perfect, but lost, companion to Springsteen's The River, matching that double album song for song with exuberance, whimsy, and frenetic production.  From the charging opening number, "Get Well Soon, " a mixed message love letter to a Paris Hilton-style heiress to the last song, "A Visitor," Little Stevie Orbit rocks and pops with a relentless menu of tuneful, commercially-friendly songs with sharp melodies and witty, sometimes distempered, lyrics. 

 Forbert's view of our world tends to be more bemused than jaundiced, but he can do the misanthropic put-down song as well as just about anybody.  "Laughter Lou" and "If You Gotta Ask, You'll Never Know" fill the bill nicely here, especially with the latter's "You're just too fucking slow" to know what is happening around you.  "Cellophane City" effectively captures the everybody-knows-everything-about-everyone nature of modern life.

But it is Forbert's paeans of love that distinguish this record.  The similarly-named "Song For Carmelita" and "Song For Katrina", the latter a concert favorite when I've seen him, fulfill the sweet, commercial promise of his biggest hit, "Romeo's Tune."  The man can write a love song.  

Forbert is the "folksinger" who figured out early on that his songs play better with pacing, powerful bass, and assertive drumming, and this record demonstrates that from beginning to end, except when he gets a bit cosmic ( in ways that I enjoy) on "One More Glass Of Beer" and the last song.  Little Stevie Orbit plays well in a party setting or a contemplative solo late night from beginning to end.  It yielded no hit single and so it is forgotten, but if you give it a listen, you will hear many songs that could have been.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Too Many Hands

Do you wash your hands a lot?  Like after (and maybe before) you go to the bathroom?  After you shake a bunch of hands over a brief amount of time?  When you know there is something going around?  How about when you are working in the kitchen, especially after handling meat or chicken?  Are you obsessive about washing your hands like that one character in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest?

I kind of hope so.

Because these days, everywhere you look, on every menu in every restaurant (of a certain caliber, I realize), in so many areas of a grocery store, and on the labels of the products contained therein, there are hands at work.  Too many hands, I'd say.

Hand pies.  Hand-helds.  Hand-pulled.  Hand-dipped.  Hand-harvested.  Hand-peeled. Hand-choked (kidding).

You get the picture.  It's like every utensil and modern convenience of food preparation has become so gauche, so inessential that we need little more than the 10 digits God blessed us with.

Part of it is just pure, annoying pretension.  Hand pies, which are appearing on all kinds of menus and in cooking magazines, used to be called "fry pies" or "fried pies."  Hand helds, I'm pretty sure, were known back in the unenlightened world as things like "sandwiches" or "tacos."  On the Bonefish Grill menu, for example, there is an entire section devoted to "Hand Helds," which includes everything from a burger to a taco to a fish sandwich to fish and chips (which you might want to hand hold if they've just come out of the fryer!).

So what's it all about?  A use of wording, I suppose, to suggest that foods are more rustic, more casual, more comfortable, and, often, more natural.  For the food that eschews modern appliances for the simple, human tools of the past must be more authentic, right?

It's just that hands are kind of gross.  Take 15 minutes and watch what someone does with their hands during that time--scratching, sniffing, rumaging through a purse, touching doorknobs, rubbing, licking, exploring, handling money, picking up things off the ground, picking.  And how are those fingernails?  Clean?  Neatly-trimmed?

You know, I've "hand-pulled" my fair share of pork barbecue, and it isn't all that fun.  And I didn't wear gloves.  What I did do was to get rid of all of the excess fat I could find before I served it to my guests, but that doesn't mean that my hands didn't bathe in those warm shreds and slick oils in doing so.

Hand-dipped?  Well, you usually see that term with ricotta cheese or some such thing these days.  Hand-dipped? What does that even mean?  Did someone press three fingers together to form a kind of spoon and scoop the cheese out with that before it came to you?  Why?  Why not "spooned, but held by a hand, ricotta"?

Once in New Orleans, where restaurant bathrooms can be in the strangest places, I came out of the bathroom, which happened to be right by the waiters' station, to observe a waitress pressing her finger into a piece of microwaved bread pudding, presumably to see if it had been heated enough.

What is next?  Finger-tested?  Finger-stirred?  Is the finger perhaps the best tool to gauge both the temperature of, say, a soup, and then it can double as a taster when lifted into the mouth?

I know people cook with their hands.  I do.  Kneading dough, stretching it for pizza, spreading the ingredients over the cheese--these are all necessary, pleasurable activities, activities that will culminate in that pie going into a 515 degree oven.

But I don't brag about it.  I don't feature it in conversation when I serve the food.  "I just want you all to know that for quality control, my fingers have been on every inch of this pizza" or "How is that salad?  I tore each of the leaves by hand."  Some things are better left unsaid, and I hope that I washed my hands first.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Two Nashville Nights

A week ago, I witnessed the Rolling Stones own a stadium for two hours. Twenty-four hours later, I watched three bands play their hearts out for a crowd smaller than the line for one of LP Field's bathrooms during the Stones show.

The dichotomy, and those two very different days of musical performances, was one of the coolest dadgum things I've had the pleasure of experiencing in a while.

The Stones are one of only a few bands that have the right to be in the debate of Best Rock Band Ever. They're my mom's age, yet they strutted, plucked, played and sweated (a lot) for the crowd gathered in the middle of Nashville, and the sticky heat couldn't kill the awe of the audience.

Several people around us and in following days claimed it was the best concert they'd ever seen. Respectfully, they haven't seen enough concerts. I can only claim it was the best concert I've ever seen put on by people whose first hit came out more than half a century ago. But when you're witnessing a group of people do what they are best known for, even if they're only doing it at 60 percent of their prime abilities, you're still witnessing a moment of history. Even if you only saw Michael Jordan playing with the Wizards at the end of his career, you'll never forget it.

We in that audience joined a club whose membership will not continue to grow much longer. More than a few people including myself used the words "bucket list moment" to describe their experience.

The next night, I held up a wall, with the help of a 25oz Yuengling draft, and let the unknown music from Lightning 100's "Music On Tap" event at midtown's Tin Roof wash over my ears.

Blue Mother Tupelo, a husband and wife duo that could be fairly described as "raucous Americana," opened up the evening. After their set, Ricky and Micol Davis were friendly as could be. When I told Micol their sound reminded me of Shovels & Rope, she thanked me but added, "We've been doing this a couple decades more'n them." You could feel the tiny bit of frustration behind her words, and having now listened to their most recent CD, Only Sunshine, I don't blame her. Their sound is, song for song, every bit as compelling and potent as Shovels & Rope. There are times on their CD when I'd swear Patty Griffin has made a guest appearance, but it's Micol. The lady can belt 'em out.

Who knows why one band sticks and another keeps seeking that upsurge? I'm just grateful they're still out there hammering away at it after 20 years.

They were followed by McNary, another not-easily-categorized musician whose voice carries no small amount of '90s indie rock vibe. While his set was decidedly less bombastic than Blue Mother Tupelo, it carried a different kind of intensity. He, too, was super cool and polite in conversation after his set. When I spoke of my interest in seeing more acts like him and fewer acts that had the glossy sheen of the well-handled aspiring modern country music star, he was kind enough to write down places I should check out. His 7-song EP, While We Are Waking, is riveting.

My 2-hour Friday car ride gave me a chance to plow through both CDs twice over. I'm listening to them again as I write this, and every listen reaffirms my initial impressions.

Neither of these acts (or the third) will be the next Rolling Stones. They're never gonna be the main event at LP Field. I didn't get the impression such an endpoint is what they have in mind. In fact, what made my Thursday night experience the perfect denouement to the Stones was seeing the Street Fighting Men (and Women) of the Digital Music Era.

Some might believe it's a stretch to call music a calling, but I don't know why. It continues to be the most effective and efficient way to connect people to one another. They're in it for something decidedly different than simple fame or glory. Part of me believes they're in the music biz only because they can't not be, their hearts and minds won't let them escape. Imprisoned and or liberated by their drive to make music.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hospital Time

Living on Tulsa Time.
Living on Tulsa Time.
Gonna set my watch back to it
'Cause you know that I've been through it.
Living on Tulsa Time.  --J.J. Cale

Lately, I've been living on hospital time.  We've all been there, right?  Someone we know is in the hospital and if we have care of them or just if we care for them, then we spend a lot of time in the hospital ourselves, getting used to its rhythms and idiosyncracies.

Things started out perfectly.  We had to be there at 10AM.  We did paperwork for the first hour.  At 11, it was "nurse time," as they got my father situated with his gown, his bed, his vital signs, and what I would do with his belongings.  Like clockwork, at 12 on the dot, another nurse came in and rolled him away for surgery prep, since the 1/2 hour surgery was at 1PM.  All of this went as predicted.

But then "hospital time" began the long unwinding on its clock.  Surgery scheduled for 1PM didn't happen until after 2:30; the doctor called to say the surgery had been successful and that he would be in a recovery room about 20 minutes later.  I don't know if that happened.  All I know is that sometime after 4:30, we saw my father in his ICU room.

And since patients have any number of issues and difficulties after a surgery, a variety of doctors come by and put in orders--orders for medications or procedures or tests.  When you are new to "hospital time," you think that those orders mean that those pills and tests are going to happen in the next half hour or hour.  You think this because, for example, if your loved one has high blood pressure and the pill will bring his blood pressure down, you think that this is a matter of some urgency.

That is when you are new; a veteran learns that nothing is a matter of urgency (with a few flatlining exceptions, of course).  Everything is a matter of when the person who is to bring it or do it, whatever it might be, can get here.  That's "hospital time."

Of course, having a loved one in a hospital means that your time is scheduled, too.  The visiting times to see my father in Neurosurgical ICU were 10-10:30AM, 4-4:30PM, and 8:30-9PM each day.  That can pretty much plan your day, if those were the actual times.  Like everything else in the hospital, the doors to visitation opened when the nurses were ready for us, not when the times were printed on the door.  Always at least 15 minutes later, often much more.

But no one is able to factor that in.  Decide for yourself that there's no point in arriving until 10:15 and then have that be the day they would have let you in on time?  With such a short window?  That's a major guilt sandwich waiting to be eaten right there.  But you also know in that back of your mind that they aren't going to make you leave at the printed time either.  That, too, is left to whim.  That, too, is "hospital time."

And so, each time I would visit my father, I would ask, "Hey, did they do that swallow test?"  "No," he would say.  "But that was ordered two days ago!"  And then he would have another choking incident that night.  Or, "Have they had you stand up yet?"  "No."  And I would ask the nurse, because that, too, was a long-standing order.  "I think they were really busy today," she would say, "Because they haven't made it up here yet."

There are two ways I use to understand "hospital time."  The first is a time about four years ago when we had some major renovations done on our house.  We hired the contractor; he hired the subcontractors.  The theory behind that, other than ease for working people like us, is that a contractor will be able to coordinate the work of all of specific people--painters, countertop guys, floor refinishers, electricians, etc--to happen in the order that it needs to happen.  Well, it didn't work for us or for anyone else I know.  Our hardwood floors, which should have been the last thing, were finished while any number of workmen were traipsing through our house in dirt-covered boots.  And parts of the floor had to be redone as the result.  Workers would knock on the door at 7:30AM to do a job we either didn't know was happening at all or weren't expecting for days.  Other workers who were making incredible progress on, say, cabinets, would suddenly disappear for a week.  That's what a hospital runs like.  Except that the house, in this case, is someone's body.

If a hospital were a restaurant, the dessert would come before the entree, the appetizer would arrive at 2AM, the chef would tell you what was on the menu, but then another chef would stop by your table and suggest a completely different cuisine.  That ketchup that you needed for your french fries?  Well, it's never coming at all, even though someone has gone to get it.  You might get served your salad three straight times before you ever get your main meal.  You might be force fed a menu choice you didn't even expect.  A hospital is the restaurant where someone else does all of the ordering for you, and, if you're not careful, you might not ever get to leave the table.

Which is not just a larger metaphor.  My father, who paintakingly poured over the menu choices and circled what he wanted and turned the sheet in dutifully to the nurses never once got the food that he ordered the entire time that he was in the hospital.  But it was always on time.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Seriously, Weather Channel. Why Are You?

I will put it very, very bluntly: The Weather Channel has lost whatever purpose it once had, at least in Chattanooga, but, I suspect, all over the country.

It was a novel idea once.  A channel devoted strictly to weather.  And if you have elderly parents or grandparents, then you know that its original, slavish followers were that older set who make decisions for their entire extended families based on the weather.

This generation, and the succeeding generations who have aged themselves into it, suddenly had a way to see weather crises all over the country all at once, so that they could warn children not to come for Christmas or call up out of the blue with sage advice about possible tornadoes.  It is because of The Weather Channel that we all found it necessary to learn the difference between a "tornado watch" and a "tornado warning."  It was so we could fend off these WC acolytes.

But that was then.  Last Tuesday night, in what was probably the 50th such instance this year, I sat at a Rolling Stones concert in Atlanta, unable to get get into the pre-concert excitement because I was so worried about the weather.  The Weather Channel-based app on my phone told me that there was an 80-90% chance of thunderstorms during the show, and we were sitting, uncovered, exposed, high up in the Georgia Tech stadium, our umbrella having been confiscated at the entrance.  While others were watching the roadies getting the stage ready or the incessant crowd moving up and down the stairs in front of us, I could look only at the sky.  Which was darkening.

But it was darkening because it was nearly 9 o'clock at night, and whatever thunderstorms might have been coming were no longer in the picture.  When I checked my phone, it told me the same thing.  Storms that had held steady on my phone app all day, even for a day or so before, had suddenly disappeared from the app.  All of a sudden, skies would be clear for the entire show.

I took great comfort in this, but I don't really know why.  Because the app said so?  Because the network said so?

Days later, again for about the 50th time this year, the secretary in the office next to mine walked in and said, "I'd been wondering what that noise was.  Well, look, it's rain!"

"Rain," I said, "It isn't supposed to rain."  And I pulled out my phone to confirm that, yes, there was 0% chance of rain in Chattanooga as the two of us stood and watched a torrential downpour.

Now, I know Chattanooga is a difficult city in which to predict the weather.  It always has been, because of the mountains.  As a teacher, I have enjoyed any number of snow days when it never snowed.

But something has changed.  Really.  Sure, it has always been hard to predict whether a snow/rain front coming this way will be cold enough for snow and how much.  But something else has changed.  If you sit somewhere with your Weather Channel-based phone app and just watch it for awhile, it will alter before your eyes.  Days of rain are suddenly gone, temperatures are of by not just a few degrees, surprise storms sneak in.

This is not to criticize the channel.  I think it still meets its goal of scaring the shit out of the elderly with overhyped, potentially-terrifying weather events.  But if it does indeed have a secondary goal of giving people in the different parts of the country an indication of what will be happening in their area on any given day, then I think it fails miserably.

And I don't blame the channel.  Now, I know some of you cannot admit to global warming for political reasons or the simple need to save face, but, dude, things is different than they used to be.  They simply are.  And much as we all might like to embrace the conservative ethic and return to things as they once were, that ain't happens', at least not with the weather.

In case you aren't paying attention, our weather patterns are changing rapidly in ways that even professionals don't seem to be able to keep up with.  You don't believe me?  All you have to do isto check your phone and to watch predicted reality change itself many, many, many times each day.  And don't plan on planning anything.

If I'm wrong, it doesn't matter.  The Weather Channel still isn't doing you right, if you want to know how to plan your day.