Sunday, January 30, 2011

We Become Our Parents

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti--"Can't Hear My Eyes" (mp3)
Donnie Iris--"I Can't Hear You" (mp3)

My wife and I left a "concert" event at intermission on Saturday night. It's a student-performance show that we have enjoyed for the past three years, but this year, we just weren't feeling it. Why? Because we couldn't quite hear it.

No, it wasn't because our joint hearing is shot, though it is headed in that direction. Instead, the kids behind us just would not shut up. We got there about 15 minutes before the show started, and that left us with a choice of seats in the upper third of the auditorium. Little did I know that that is where all of the middle school children sit.

And that's when we became our parents. It's not a role that I enjoy playing. But play it I did.

Ears did have something to do with it. When you get older, your ears, even if they haven't been abused at rock concerts like mine, are not as good at distinguishing between noises coming from different sources. When you can't hear something that you think you should be able to hear, it makes you feel anxious and isolated.

So we became our parents in two ways: 1) we turned around and asked the children to be quiet and 2) previous to that occurrence, the wife looked repeatedly at her husband with the expectation that he would be the one to take care of it. Nevermind that the wife in question is a litigator who spends her days (and nights, debriefing) in confrontation and conflict, while said husband has established himself in his school in a very comfortable "good cop" role.

The husband-wife interplay built until after the second performance. The wife kept looking at the husband--when was he finally going to do something about the incessant talking going on behind them? And so, yet another example of the greatest motivator of man since time began kicked in--the gaze of wife drove husband to act. So the husband turned around, tapped the knee of a boy from his school in lieu of the many chattering girls surrounding (thus keeping this as a social agreement among men) and said, "You're not going to talk non-stop the whole time, are you?"

You'd have thought I reached above his head and pulled the string attached to the lightbulb above it, so shocked was he to have to embrace the idea that he was making too much noise. And he did stop talking. Sort of. For awhile. And not nearly as much.

Me, sensitive to children's issues as part of my life for the past 27 years, immediately flashing back to a moment in my own middle school when our French teacher had the very bad idea of taking all of us to an evening performance of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, a well-known Moliere play that not only had we not read in English but that, as middle schoolers, did not even begin to be able to comprehend in French. So we were antsy and crammed into tight seats and chatty and fidgety and when my friend Mark, sitting next to me, decided to put his right foot up on his left knee for a change of position, I was having none of any invasion into my space, and so I shoved his foot, causing it to kick the woman in front of him in the head. That she only turned around and let us have it but didn't go get the manager and never told our French teacher is one of the great miracles of my life.

And I also glanced over at my daughter and her friends, several seats and a couple of rows below us, and noticed that every time I checked, they also were talking pretty much non-stop.

My male friend behind me wasn't having much luck either. Chastened by me, he had really toned down his talking, but that had had no affect on all of the girls surrounding him that he was trying to navigate, and so perhaps he sat there, mostly miserably or using sign language, while they continued with the multitude of things that needed to be said while one performer after another took the stage. I didn't have any intention of telling him that it was not going to get any easier, that navigation.

Until intermission.

One of the beauties of marriage, cultivated over years together, is that without having said a word, without have expressed a discontent or sulked silently, both of you stand up at intermission and know that you have had enough and that you are leaving. So it was with us. We were not angry or upset; we had just had enough.

We drifted slowly, without apparent sense of purpose, toward the door. And, I suppose, that is a bit of our parents, too, that realization that no social outing is all that important, that it's just as comforting and satisfying to smile your goodbyes and walk out the door towards something else. Whatever happened that we had missed, we would hear about it. That would be enough.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Softer Place to Fall

The Most - Lori McKenna (mp3)
Pieces of Me - Lori McKenna (mp3)

In a Jasper, Tennessee, kitchen roughly half the size of my office, my grandmother once fixed meals for her husband and seven children. I don’t have the foggiest notion where they all ate. Maybe at some dinner table on the roof. They sure didn’t have space in that house for a 7-person dining table.

Carrie was a red-headed firebrand in her younger years, but she’d gone shock-white by the time I knew her. While pictures in albums prove that she on occasion wore a nice dress, I can only recall her wearing flimsy or flannel housegowns and slippers. While she milled around the entire house, I can only recall her in that kitchen, busying herself over a pot, or over the sink, or over the counter. She was either working to serve someone a meal or working to escape the rest of the house and family. Or both.

When I listen to Lori McKenna, I think of my grandmother.

My grandfather was deaf in one ear by the time I met him. Their phone had a volume dial on it, which I always played with once I’d tired of my Star Wars figures. The rare times he was in the house instead of out in the community or tending obsessively to his two gardens on two separate plots of land, he was sitting in a flimsy rocker-recliner and gnawing on a plug of tobacco. Spittoons and their smells don’t erase easily from a child’s memories.

From all indications, my grandfather was exactly everything a wise soul would expect out of a influential figure with a charismatic charm: adored, adulated, admired, and, at least occasionally, adulterous.

Yeah, that last one I didn’t know about until I was in my 20s, a year or two after my grandmother had died. It took another decade to truly grasp it, that my grandfather had fathered a child out of wedlock, that my grandmother knew of this, that she continued cooking meals in that kitchen for seven children and her preacher husband. That she kept living, kept smiling, kept moving.

A few years ago, my mom showed me a collection of poems written by my grandmother. She kept them hidden in a small box, most of them written on the kinds of note cards usually reserved for family recipes. They closely followed Emily Dickinson in style and voice, quatrains full of dashes and simple rhyme schemes. Carefully written, words rarely crossed out, rarely if ever misspelled. Many about dying, about the struggle against meaninglessness, about the siren call of suicide, about feeling unloved and unappreciated.

I imagine her writing those poems as she cooked a stew, or chopped tomatoes, or heated up the morning’s oatmeal. I’m certain she wrote most of them in her kitchen. And when she wasn’t writing them, they were growing like mustard seeds in her mind.

Neither her smiles and witty comments from the kitchen, nor her frightening and lost poems were false representations of her. We are all more complicated than even we, our own autobiographers, can fathom. She was both personae and many others, surely.

When I listen to Lori McKenna, I think of my grandmother.

My mother was the oldest of seven children. She married young, then married again rashly, and then married again carefully. Divorce, death and death split her from those three men. I’ll see her occasionally, staring into the distance of nothing, and I know she’s thinking about my father.

I hope that heaven has a movie theater where I’ll be able to go and watch the whole movie of my mother’s life with the benefit of my adult understanding. It might be a shocking tale, or maybe merely a quiet and endearing one, but I know nothing in that movie will make me love her less.

When I listen to Lori McKenna, I think of my mother.

I walked into my bedroom last night to see my flu-ridden middle child curled into my wife, both of them buried under our covers and chasing soccer balls and American Girl dolls in their synchronous dreams. My wife has been housebound all week with two sick children and a sick mother-in-law, and her husband comes home every night with some new whiny tale of work woe and soapbox monologues aimed at some unseen adversary.

Her son woke up at 5:30 this morning with a nosebleed that first left its evidence all over his bed and with a trail from his room to ours. Her husband welcomed her home from her agonizing church meeting last night with a hug, a kiss, and a “I’m in there playing ‘Call of Duty.’ Gotta get back to it! By the way, the Tar Heels won! I’ll be in bed by midnight!”

When I listen to Lori McKenna, I think of my wife.

Lori McKenna has a new album, Lorraine. She has six albums. Her personal story is so endearing and worthy of its own novel that I can only just link to her own web site and encourage you to learn about her.

Her music need not be 100% autobiographical to be real. The feelings are real. The characters are real. The situations are real. Her music is my family and your family and anyone’s family that knows anything of cornbread or covered dishes, pick-up trucks or potholes. She is my grandmother, my mother, my wife, my friends. She is almost any woman with a yearning for more but a need to cling gratefully to the small good fortunes in her midst both past and present. She is everything I take for granted and cherish, everything worth crying for or fighting over.

Lori, can you feel me, down here in Tennessee, devouring your notes and twangs, feeding my hungry soul? Can you feel the hundreds or thousands of others who feel this connection without ever having met you? If so, I hope it warms and strengthens you and your family, because God knows you deserve it.

None of the pictures are of my family, my grandparents, or anyone related to me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Church

The Rodeo Church--"Miserable" (mp3)

In the grand Southern tradition, I attend church twice a week--on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. The difference, I suppose, if there is one, is that in neither case do I attend a Christian place of worship. When I do make it there, that is the third service I attend that week.

From Merriam-Webster:

Definition of
CHURCH
1: a building for public and especially Christian worship
2: the clergy or officialdom of a religious body
3 often capitalized : a body or organization of religious believers: as a : the whole body of Christians b :
denomination c : congregation
4: a public divine worship
5: the clerical profession

I have to stretch things a bit to make any one of these official definitons work. I can fit the "public"and the "body or organization of religious believers" kind of work, especially with "religious" meaning "scrupulously or conscientiously faithful," though I also believe that there is "devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity." More the ultimate reality than the deity. If the institution we work for becomes a deity, we're in even bigger trouble.

The two churches I attend on a regular basis could not be more different. The first is with my dad at Panera, a gathering of two friends who are not especially like-minded. My dad is about as conservative as it gets, except religiously, so we have some common ground. We are able to agree that Conservative Christianity has no business in politics (or in endorsing the Avetts) and we are able to agree that our government is mostly broken, and so we are able to find some common ground. Where we cannot agree is on anything related to Obama or specific policy. And, yes, we've both delivered a fairly-heated sermon or two. But, really, I'm not sure this is what we're about. Sitting in that Panera, Sunday after Sunday, we see the same people come and go, the family with the two boys who spend the whole time on their computers with their headphones in their ears while their parents read the paper, the older gentleman who seems to know so many others there and makes his social rounds. We nod at them, occasionally share a word. We have all been there enough Sundays that we know that we are a part of something, that we share something, amorphous as that is.

There is a calmness to those Sunday mornings and their routines. My dad is always early, part of his military training, and I am always late, part of my rebellion. We bring each other things--homemade baked goods, cut-out coupons, golf balls and other odd items he finds in his early morning walks around the mall. We remininisce about my mother and the early years of our family. We remark on the changes that come with age. It is an ongoing story. Come 11 o'clock, we both realize that we've had enough, that there are other things to do,

Wednesday nights are spent with co-workers, so you can imagine where the conversation tends to drift. Work, work, work, work, and work. But not just grim work or frustrating work. It is a place and time to unload the funny stories of the day and week, the idiosyncracies of co-workers and the foibles of bosses, the lack of self-awareness in the blowhards and the ridiculousness of policies and decisions (even ones that we've made),the bathroom habits and exhibitionist tendencies of those with whom we spend our days. And like any good Sunday school, we take the scripture of the week, the theme the year, and subject it to intense analysis and discussion. We argue. We bring each other down. We taunt and support. Oh, yes, given the license, we could fix this school. We could do great things with it, smart things to it. Or, you could reach in that refrigerator and get me another beer.

But know this: these two meetings each week are as essential to my well-being as any kind of structured, institutionalized, legitimized spiritual renewal that you can imagine. Isn't that what church is supposed to do?

"Miserable" by the Rodeo Church is a great, upbeat pop song!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nnnnnnnnot Gonna Do It!

The Yellow Brick Road Song - Iyeoka (mp3)

Michael Chabon sure knows how to handle a story involving his children, his opinions, and the use of the dreaded, nuclear N-word.* His harrowing tale is in The Atlantic Online.

The beauty of admiring someone from afar is that, if lucky, one need not be exposed to that afar-person’s inevitable multitude of imperfections. From the proper distance, large imperfections can often seem trite and forgettable. So when I say I admire Michael Chabon, I don’t really know what the hell I’m talking about beyond my admiration of his mastery of writing and clearly sharp-as-hell intellect. His wife seems funny and cool and also sharp-as-hell and, um, Jewish. And his collection of essays Manhood for Amateurs is one of the best books of its kind I’ve ever read. (Not to mention that The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay was the most comic book nerd-educating fiction-based 4-million-page novel ever written.)

But I hardly know the man. All the better to try and admire him. Less reality and truth to get in the way. I can just focus on his Atlantic essay.

Our world is indeed a messy one, and in few circumstances does it become more powerfully clear to me than when one word is at the center of the story. (“I’ll take ‘6-Letter Words That Begin With “N”’ for $1,000, Alex!”)**

My immediate reaction about the censorship and N-bleaching of Huck Finn was visceral and certain. How dare they. Screw them. Mind control from the PC universe. More refusal to accept that sometimes ugly things are a part of our heritage, a part of our history. Next thing you know, they’ll start scrubbing out the murders and deaths from the Bible, along with the polygamy, incest and rapes. And they’ll take Piggy out of Lord of the Flies and replace him with a thin and muscular computer-generated Brad Pitt.

These were the kinds of holier than thou thoughts I had.

Yet in the back of my mind, I can enjoy this uncompromising vitriol knowing damn well I’ll never actually have to put my money where my mind is, because I’m not an English teacher. Having a conversation about the N-word with my children, even with Huck Finn as a jumping-off point, is a universally different challenge than being a teacher of dozens upon dozens of students, students of varying social and economic backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, and so forth.

The fact that I hang out with cool English teachers, that I come from a long line of English teachers, that I majored in the damn subject... well, all of these factoids are sleights of mental hand. They ultimately mean nothing. They are weightless, because none of it translates into me sitting in a melting pot of a classroom with adolescents, millions of varying chemicals all boiling within those bodies, millions of chemical reactions both internal and external ready to ignite with any wrong step or poor choice of words.

Parenting and teaching are similar in certain aspects. Both, most of the time, are much easier than parents or teachers want to let on. Same goes for firefighters or policemen. Only on TV shows are those dudes always fighting fires and solving crimes. In reality, they’re spending most of their time sitting around and waiting for the s#*t to hit the fan. Parents and teachers are the same way.***

But then, after weeks or months of calm seas and relatively easy lesson plans, something like the N-word in Huck Finn comes up. The 4-alarm fire of English classes. That’s what they’re paid to do, right? That’s the kind of fire that stirs up a good teacher’s passions, right? Um, right?

I raise my glass to the teachers who can manage a discussion about the N-word in such a way that helps and strengthens their students rather than harming them. I wonder if the ones who think they do this well are actually the ones who pull it off. I wonder just how many of these teachers are out there in our schools. If English Teachers were marksmen and Huck Finn a sniper rifle, how many of them do we actually trust taking that shot, knowing they’ll hit the target?

“Not enough” is the only correct answer.

I can’t help but think of this guy: Hardly Working: Cool English Teacher.

P.S. The fact that this post is entirely without focus and rambling speaks precisely to how wigged out I get just attempting to write a post about an author who wrote an essay about a book written to scrub out the damn word from The Single Greatest Work of American Literature Ever.

* -- The N-word in question is not “nuclear.”


** -- I totally just wrote that so I could embed quotes inside quotes inside quotes, thus paying homage to the dream within a dream within a dream in Inception.


*** -- And all of these jobs don’t pay squat relative to their worth when the s#*t indeed does hit the fan.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Saddest People In The World

Tallest Man In The World--"Burden of Tomorrow" (mp3)

The saddest people in the world spend their days waving, smiling, jumping, shouting, strutting, prancing, rocking, cajoling, pleading, enticing. All while the world passes them by.

The saddest people in the world adorn themselves in costume, the same costume, whether they be man or woman, as Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, with her torch and tablet.

Maybe there is music in their heads or a cigarette in their mouths or a hidden bite of a stashed sandwich. Maybe an internal dialogue loops endlessly, one part of the brain feeding senseless words and noises to the mouth, another part screening images, behind the eyes, of better lives or even better oblivion later in the day when, cash in hand, a bottle beckons. Maybe they are better served by blankness of mind.

You've seen them. Probably, you see them everyday at this time of year, up until April 15th, when income taxes are due, standing in front of the cut-rate tax joints, the bottom feeders employing the sad. Out there on the sidewalks as you race by, with your windows rolled up to keep out the cold, they are Sirens without voices trying to lure you to the shores, the rocky hope of a refund.

Does it work? I guess it does, or else why would these roadsiders hawk everything from tax refunds to cheesesteaks, going-out-of-business sales to open houses. I've even seen families of them out there putting the Christ back in Christmas.

But those are not our sad people. Our sad people must be so desperate for a job that they will dress up as the Statue of Liberty and stand in front of a business that files tax returns. My God.

What does the job pay? What is in its description? What is the training involved? What are the "do's and don't's" of standing there in drag as the Statue of Liberty? What are the "cans and can'ts" of what they wear beneath their costumes? If a car stops, are they allowed to talk? What if the Statue gets tired and wants to sit down, has a pain and needs to bend over, or worse, just can't dredge up a smile anymore? If a car hits a puddle at the right time and douses Ms. Liberty, can she send a finger down the road after it? Is it cash under the table? Is there some kind of commission?

Of course, they are not the saddest people in the world. You and I can think of times when we think we have been sadder. And, out there are levels of sadness we cannot begin to comprehend. But how many carry the burden of this many layers of irony along with their other struggles?

OK, just for the heck of it, I'll throw you one ironic scenario: the poorest of the poor dress up as the symbol of our liberty to remind us of our need to pay taxes, which for some of our citizens is not liberty at all, but bondage to a government which then squanders those funds, all while our symbol, out there on the street, is in some ways the embodiment of the failure of the promise of that statue and the opportunities that it represents or once did.

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


Yeah, it's got to be a real kick in the nuts to put on that costume and then stand out there and wave at cars you don't own or even drive but who have the power to at least let you know that you exist, if they would just wave back or honk their horns or, better yet, slam to a halt and grab all those tax papers that people carry around with them in their cars and march right in and get those dadgummed taxes done, don't you think?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

BOTG Mailbox Music Bonanza 1/11

Hey kids! It’s about time for another installment of something no one ever much comments on (but plenty of folks download): The Best January Submissions to our BOTG Mailbox!

Every month, we get more than 100 music submissions, artists and promoters of artists who ask us to give their songs or albums a spin. Many are up-and-coming. A few are starting to break through. Because we live in the South, we rarely know one from the other. Because we’re not really connected to the music scene, we have no dog in the hunt. But we respect music, and we respect musicians who are risking years of their lives and their souls in taking a risk and reaching for a way to make music a career.

This is our teeny tiny way of hoping we can help. You, dear readers, can sample their wares here for free. If you like anything you hear, seek them out and purchase a song or an album, or notice their names when they’re touring near you and pay to see ‘em live. Music ain’t born from some miraculous Big Bang. Music needs to eat and needs a roof over its head.

Besides, you can be cool before the cool people even know the temperature has changed! Get ahead of them by getting to know a few of these bands. Almost every mailbox feature we've run included at least one or two bands that manage to climb up the independent ladder!

Best Album of the Bunch: Tin Cup Gypsy’s CALICO
Words - Tin Cup Gypsy
This Nashville-based trio can’t help but get me wistful for Nickel Creek. These folks are a little more interested in exploring a broader range of sounds and instruments, and they pull it off darn well, but it’s when they’re at their most hushed and intense that I find myself liking them the most. Songs like “To the Sea” and “The Other Side” had me headed to their web site and wondering when they’d be performing in my town. Especially worth buying: “Bury Me”

Here’s the rest of the BOTG Mailbox Music Bonanza:

Til We Arrive - Early to Bed
I love stories like this. Girl writes and records in her bedroom in the U.S. Guy gets her stuff in Denmark and polishes it and builds it into a more-realized production. The kind of fuzzy breezy stomach-tingling jangle-pop that simply wouldn’t exist 20 years ago. The kind of 5-minute song that makes you grateful for all that wonderful beautiful technology.

Not Evident - The Narcoleptic Dancers
Maybe it sounds like it was supposed to be on a commercial. It prolly will be if it hasn’t already. But this is a seriously infectious earworm, and I can’t listen to it with out bobbing my head ever so subtly back and forth and cracking just a tiny little smile of joy.

Easy - The Soft Collapse
I hear that cello, and I think of Andrew Bird. But Andrew, while plenty loved by folks, never quite hit me right. The Soft Collapse plays a few steps closer to the mainstream (which, c’mon, isn’t that hard to do when compared to Bird). It’s mellow and stripped down and intense. The album is called Little Songs.

My Eyes to See - Alcoholic Faith Mission
Trippy and intense little song. Watch the video, and you’ll be even more impressed. Their entire EP Let This Be the Last Night We Care is breathtaking and feels familiar, yet I can’t find a single band in my tiny mental encyclopedia with which to compare them. If these Danes aren’t moving up the recognition ladder soon and quickly, I’ll be very surprised.

I Won’t Wait - Albany Down
You’ll know within 20 seconds whether you like this band. For me, Albany Down takes me back to ‘80s rock bands that were somewhere left of the proverbial dial, bands like Dreams So Real and Fetchin’ Bones that had some pop hooks in them but never quite caught the right eyes at the right times. This one makes me think Bad Company. But that probably just makes it obvious how little I’ve listened to Bad Company. My point is, I like their stuff.

The Fear - Lovett
Another damn catchy album from a guy who hasn’t been in any hurry to get his name in spotlights. He scores films. He produces stuff for people. He disappears for a while and lives a semi-hermetic life. Then he produces an album of songs called Highway Connection that, if you like what you hear in “The Fear,” you are certain to enjoy.

Nowhere Near My Heart - Kori Pop
Another song made all the more fun by watching the video. Another worthy earworm. Another song destined to be in a commercial. From her album From the Outskirts.

Alone - The Morning After Girls
This song takes me back to the mid-90s, a band willing to let a guitar sit out there and take the song on a journey. Their new album by the same name, and they bring up the Dandy Warhols a lot. Since I’m not well-versed on the Warhols, I’ll take their word for it.

I Know I Fucked Up - Darren Hayman
Call me old-fashioned, but that title was gonna get a listen, and it was definitely worth doing. Darren has recorded a song from scratch every day in January, and he’s posted them all on Tumblr. Check ‘em out. His reasoning -- that he wasn’t exactly making much cash going through a company, so why not just give the shit away and hopefully draw in some more folks to his live shows -- is at the very least worth giving him your ear for a few minutes.

Last Boat - Montpelier
I’ll admit the first time I listened to this one, I wasn’t too taken. But the third, the fourth time... it burrowed into my heart. The guitars carry this one, too. That the song is about the singer’s teenage struggles with OCD also grants it some heft. The song works itself from something bordering on despair to something hopeful and yearning, and every listen makes me like it more.

Dust - Chamberlain
From their album Bitter Blood, these darlings of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals remind me a little of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes with maybe a little Kings of Leon thrown in. They’re that catchy, but not bad.

Reunion Day - APL
From their album Ancient Tunes, this song (intentionally?) goes thin on the bass. Very midrange and treble-heavy. But dang if it doesn’t have a nice little hook to it.

Open Arms and Broken Hearts - The District
This one had me three seconds in. That guitar intro taps my spine. It’s got this nice country tinge, and it loves itsself some 6-man harmonies, and it’s just this chill acoustic joyride. Their album Wellfleet drops in February.

El Matador - The Lines
Killer-esque syntho-rock with a Brit soul. If you like Britpop, these dudes have toured with Babyshambles and The Charlatans, among others, and you should give ‘em a spin.
If I Had a Boat - James Vincent McMorrow
Song is from his album Early In the Morning, which comes out next week. He’s Irish. He’s got soul. He’s got some seriously good songs. If you like this one, check out “We Don’t Eat,” which was my favorite.

Pink Redemption - Moving Units
The falsetto ambitions of Scissor Sisters or The Darkness. A few disco bloops and beeps. Some handclaps. A catchy bass line. Kitschy, but not shabby! From the album Tension War.

Calling - Donots
Another band finding much inspiration from the syntho-80s. It’s Killers territory, but these guys do a pretty good job establishing their residence there as well. From their album The Long Way Home.

The Scientist’s Lament - Daddy Lion
Daddy Lion has sent stuff before. It’s just as worthy of attention as the last time. Catchy verse licks, and I like the closing chorus line, “Everything’s just matter, and I don’t have the proof.”

Friday, January 21, 2011

WEEKEND EDITION: Quit Picking On The Nazis!

The other day my daughter was watching me kill zombies on the Wii, and she said, "Wait a minute. Are those zombies Nazis?"

"Yes," I said.

"Why?"

"I don't know."

It bothered her. Not that she was struck with some warmhearted compassion for the Nazis who now must jump into zombie suits as well as everything else. It was more like, they're already zombies, is it necessary that they be Nazis, too? I think she's just had enough of Nazis, and to see them in yet another manifestation was more than she could take. I'm with her. I've had enough of Nazis, too.

Not as Nazis, mind you. I'm not trying to suggest that there is not great value in reminding ourselves of the atrocities perpetrated or the societal manipulations mastered by these hateful men. Those historical lessons can never be examined enough. It's the Nazis as metaphor, as parallel, as analogy that is completely played out. And I don't think that's just for my daughter or me.

If you use or encounter a Christ-figure in writing or speech, that concept can stand for any number of meanings. A Christ-figure might be just a savior, a martyr, a teacher, a supernatural being, a revolutionary leader, a non-conformist, or some combination of those, plus a whole lot more. A Christ-figure can even be ironic, like the fighting, drinking, whoring McMurphy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest who nevertheless leads a number of other mental institution patients to rebirth, new lives, salvation.

Nazis are a different story. You invoke the word "Nazi" and you are invoking the human manifestation of Ultimate Evil. And not without cause, since we all know the many bad, bad things that the Nazis did and how those traits and techniques were then adopted and modified by the evil regimes that have followed. But there really aren't any shadings of the Nazi parallel. You connect someone or some party or some cause to Nazism, and you are hanging on them every blitzkreiged country, every camp and corpse of the Holocaust, every action driven by a desire for racial purity, every image of Hitler and stormtroopers and Stukas and ovens. They are simply too overwhelming an evil to ever be compared to anything except similar dictators and genocides.

And, yes, there continue to be many things wrong in this country and this world. And there are people and political parties who may do things that strike you as not in the best interests of you, your country, poor people, immigrants. There are people who act based on racial prejudice. There are people who are indifferent to the suffering of others, who may do things that add to that suffering. There are people who are masters at spinning the news, the situation, the congressional bill so that it works to their advantage. There are presidents and preachers, governors and gun lobbyists who have repeated the same lies over and over again until they have begun to take on a facade of truth. But to invoke a comparison to the Nazis just doesn't work.

I'm thinking, of course, of the most recent example: Rep. Steve Cohen (D) of Tennesse invokes the practices of Nazi chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels in his characterizations of House Republicans concerning the Health Care bill, particularly the use of the lie that is repeated enough that it becomes truth. Now, I've read the expanded comments of Mr. Cohen. It's not vitriol; it's not soundbytes for the networks. Here's what he said:

"They don't like the truth so they summarily dismiss it," he said. "They say it's a government takeover of healthcare. A big lie just like Goebbels. You say it enough and you repeat the lie, repeat the lie, repeat the lie until eventually people believe it. Like blood libel, that's the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and people believed it, and you have the Holocaust," he added. "You tell a lie over and over again."

Almost no one was there in the chambers when he was talking. But, oh, it got picked up by the media, all right. "Say What? Democrat Compares Republicans to Nazis," says ABC News. And there are so many variations of that out there now as well.

Whatever salient points Mr. Cohen thought he was making, he ended up subverting those with the use of the Nazi simile. The thoughtful insight overwhelmed by the soundbyte. And that's why it can't work. You can't go Holocaust when it isn't the Holocaust. You can't go Hitler just because someone is a domineering, race-or-ethnicity baiting idiot. You can't go Goebbels just because someone is propogating a colossal lie over and over again.

And you don't need to. Try this on for size: "The Bush Administration wanted war and didn't like the truth so they summarily dismissed it," he said. "They said Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11.. A big lie. You say it enough and you repeat the lie, repeat the lie, repeat the lie until eventually people believe it. Bush and his cronies said enough about Hussein and 9/11 and people believed it, and you have the Iraqi War," he added. "You tell a lie over and over again."

See? Safe rhetoric. Close to home. And no one can argue with it. The Nazis have enough crimes of their own, so many as to be overwhelming as a comparison to almost anything. Let's leave them dead and not keep dragging them up in words to walk the earth again.

I'm not asking you contentious politicians to be politically-correct; I'm asking you to be rhetorically-smart. Then we might start to get somewhere.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I Come, Anon!

Little Mystery - Todd Thibaud (mp3)

Bob doesn’t like anonymous commenters. They are the green eggs and ham of his existence. He prefers people with names. People like troutking, gooftyakemyhand, Thom Anon, Daisy, cinderkeys, BeckEye.

I find Bob’s prejudices in this matter to be entirely weird.

Of the people whose pseudonyms I’ve listed above -- loyal or semi-loyal readers one and all -- Bob only knows three of them well. He knows little or nothing of the other three. Nothing, that is, except a made-up name that re-emerges with new comments.

Do they have spouses or children? What are their career interests or personal aspirations? Are they religious? Do they own firearms? Have they ever stalked someone on Facebook? Bob doesn’t know. And, more importantly, Bob doesn’t really care.*

Which is precisely why I don’t quite understand why he gets so annoyed with anonymous comments like the one he received following his Damning-With-Faint-Damnation write-up about the Avett Brothers.

The Anonymous In Question (I hereby name him “TAIQ”) wrote a sincere response to Bob’s negative slant on the Avett Brothers. He (she?) wasn’t trolling. He wasn’t insulting Bob. He was just begging to differ and sharing his own degree of interest in and passion for the band in question. I would think -- and perhaps Bob will correct me -- that the kinds of comments TAIQ offered are precisely the kind of honest counterpoints for which one might hope to receive from the outside world when writing an opinion piece on a blog.

What if TAIQ named himself “TAIQ”? Or Jimmy, or Papa Smurf, or Dick Cheney’s Pet Giraffe? This somehow would have comforted Bob. At least, that’s the impression one can rightly get from Bob’s frequently put-off replies to people who simply choose to keep the name “Anonymous.”

One of my favorite movie moments of the last 20 years -- and one of the most powerful American literature moments of the last century -- is the scene where John Proctor screams and beseeches the mortal judges of his fate to leave him his name in the film adaptation of “The Crucible.” (Skip to the 3:15 mark to see the clip. Every single time I watch it, I get very misty.)

If we all had to post our names -- our real, full, completely identifiable names -- on all the doors to all the places we visit or pass by, both in the real world and online, perhaps we would be more respectful of our own decision-making. We might better honor our names and our souls if we were required to own up in toto to all our words and deeds.

But then, how to defend that the entire foundation of Bottom of the Glass is built on anonymity? From day one, Bob and I determined we could not, with sufficient comfort and confidence, write our honest and blunt opinions about things unless we keep our identities all but private. That’s right; this entire blog is written by two mostly-anonymous people who choose to reveal only what they wish to reveal about themselves.

Were our full names on BOTG, the entire tone and personality of this endeavor would shift. It would become safer, stiffer, and more vanilla than a venti Starbucks latte. Instead, having just the slightest veneer of identity protection frees us up to be a version of ourselves that need not care about our paycheck security, our colleague security, our church security, whatever.

It is not a lie, our semi-anonymity, anymore than Clark Kent is a lie. It is a reminder that we all create personae to fit specific crowds and times. (If you have somehow fooled yourself into thinking you are immune from this peccadillo, sleep well with your self-delusion.)

To TAIQ and others out there in our Anonymous Universe: all we’d really like -- but don’t by any means demand -- is some basic, simple, and yes ultimately still-anonymous way of identifying you that separates you ever so slightly from all those other anonymous people we don’t know.

We both sincerely hope you’ll have been intrigued or annoyed enough to return and share in future conversations!


* - This lack of care does not speak ill of Bob. It is the natural inclination of almost all of us to not care about the life details of people with whom we have no actual expected interactions in the near or far future. It’s tough enough for most of us to care about the life details of people we actually care about and work or live with, much less those we hardly know.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gamer

Sweet G--"Games People Play" (mp3)

Having spent a fair amount of time during the snow days last week, finishing Black Ops main game and then killing zombies online while teamed up, at times, with what sound like 10-year-old children defending the other doors, I thought I'd better finally fess up.

I am a gamer.

That's not my first video game. On the Nintendo 64, I loved Mario Kart. It was fun to play with my children. On the Playstation 2, I played hours of Medal of Honor and Call of Duty games. On the Wii, I like playing the sports--tennis, basketball, golf, baseball, ping-pong, etc. And when my children stopped playing, I kept playing. After all, we originally bought the game systems for them, didn't we?

On my current cell phone, I have Bounce Out Ball-0-Rama, Madden NFL 10, SPIT!, Schizoid, and UNO. On my Ipod, Bubble Bash, Chalkboard Sports Baseball, Mystery Mansion Pinball, Peggle, Reversi, and Zuma. I even play games on my Kindle, games like Every Word. If I'm sitting in a bathroom, either two doors down in my office or in the Belk department store, there's a pretty good chance I'm playing SPIT! Even Fantasy Football is nothing but a game.

I have always been a gamer, at least for as long as I can remember. My very earliest memories include playing Checkers with my grandfather on his magnetized checkerboard that he could fold up and carry everywhere in his pocket. My other grandfather built, sanded, and varnished a Yahtzee set, which was eventually passed on to us. And, in fact, all of the families that I come from thrived on games as both family and social activities. My dad is a card person, who still plays poker regularly, and who also once enjoyed Bridge, Hearts, and Pinochle. My mother belonged to not one, but two, Bridge clubs. Their parents before them also enjoyed all kinds of cards and games. I remember as a child the time I got to go to and participate in a party at my grandparents where everyone was playing Pirate Bingo (you know, when you win, you can either claim a new prize or steal one from someone who's already won).

Childhood, of course, largely consisted of games. Beyond sports, there were the outside summer night games like Kick The Can or Capture The Flag and schoolyard recess games like Steal The Bacon, or even Spin the Bottle. When inside with friends on days too hot or too cold, marathon games of everything from Monopoly and Risk to Life and Clue filled the long afternoons.

As an early teenager, when we would travel to my grandparent's lake house in Ontario, the evening entertainment always consisted of communal games of Scat or Dirty Dog, card games that required a $0.15 investment from each player, but that were conducted with the ferocity of high-stakes Texas Hold'Em. Around that table each night, my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, my mother, my cousins, my brother and I would share jokes and strategies, victories and bitter disappointments.

College, it was pinball. In the early years, pinball in the arcades; in the later years, pinball, or maybe Space Invaders, in the bars. We figured out ways to play against each other and in teams, like when each person gets only one flipper and you try to coordinate motion.

I have a friend who lives for Golden Tee. Many evening on Bourbon Street, we have climbed to the top floor of a bar to play it, or air hockey, or foosball. Many evenings in Seoul, Korea, we would take a cab to Itaewon, the American section, and climb to the third floor of a bar to play Golden Tee. And though I have mocked his obsession to him many times, I get it. I fully get it. He's a gamer, too. He likes the competition, the winning, the other world of the game.

I'm not here to defend games--their obvious social and mental benefits aside (a student was just in here telling me that Tetris is being used to bring calmness to veterans). I'll leave that to someone else.

No, I'm here just to make a couple of observations. First, that if you continue to play games as you get older, you end up playing them by yourself. At some point, the Bible and society told us to put away childish things. For many people, that means games. Here are some of the messages: "Games are silly," "This is a waste of time," "You know, you could be painting the basement," "Gambling is dangerous and sleazy." People who didn't play games as a child are now afraid of them. People who didn't spend time on them just don't see the point. People who didn't play children's games aren't interested in the games that children are playing now.

Second, if you play games in the modern world, you end up playing them by yourself. When you play UNO on your cell phone, you don't need the other players. When your computer chess opponent is kicking your ass, you can just turn it off. When you engage in multiplayer games like Black Ops online, you may be playing with other people, but unless you are part of a group of gamers, you will probably have no idea who those other people are. And if you aren't very good or just learning, they won't pick you for the next game.

Old games like Bridge or Parcheesi that require learning complex rules are dying out; new games don't really require other people. Some of the old games I enjoyed as a child seem stupid even to me when I ponder them in the modern context. And so, I'm wondering, even though games are playing an ever-increasing role in our society, are they offering the benefits that they once did? Are games a norm of family activities? Are they a source of friendly competition? Are they ever the focus of a social gathering? Beyond the occasional poker night for the guys, I don't know.

There is a reason why Solitaire continues to be so popular, but was it meant to be the standard game experience? Wasn't it Cher who once sang, "Sooner or later, we all game alone?"

Note: the two-space rule was not used in the construction of this blogpost.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Two Spaces

A Small Victory - Faith No More (mp3)

“That’s just how I was taught.”

Interesting how that phrase gets used by most of us. It’s a defensive statement. It tends to mean, “Hey, don’t blame me. Someone else did this to me. I was just a kid, and this is what I learned.”

When it comes to matters of prejudice, bigotry, or hatred, and when it involves someone inheriting/learning from the small-mindedness of previous generations, many of us are impatient or outright angry at the excuse. Being raised by racists, or being raised by a misogynistic father, or being taught that the original lunar landing was a conspiratorial hoax by a wacky teacher... None of these are excuses for carrying forth with or propagating such nonsense.

But if you throw down the gauntlet about something like the proper number of spaces between sentences, folks come out of the woodwork in defense of two spaces with this very desperate cry, “I was just taught that way!”

Or, better yet, “It’s just a matter of habit!”

Slate.com offered a polemic against double-spacing recently, and were it not for the hype of a Tiger Mother, it might well have been one of the most unpredictably viral screeds of the week. Slate’s page received a barrage of commentary, well over 100 at last count. Of particular fascination is how much time many people took to observe that the entire issue was a waste of time. That is, people wasted their own precious time to point out the time they clearly wasted to read the piece and scroll down and sign in and offer opinion.

Compared to matters of warfare and world hunger, the issue of space width between sentences is certainly trivial. Yet more than 100 people, myself included, find ourselves wasting time and some level of emotional energy on the matter.

Two spaces versus one. Edward versus Jacob. Yankees versus Red Sox. We Americans crave meaningless and superficial debates about things which ultimately mean little or nothing, because we seem so poor at handling matters of greater import. We are so irresponsible in how we debate and discuss truly important issues, and we embrace such a low level of intellectual discourse, that we instead drift into debating things with little true significance. Because, ultimately, even the lowest-educated soul can find some way to argue for a favorite football team or a preferred lover for Bella. You need only read two books or sit in front of a TV for a few hours, and suddenly you have all the firepower necessary to engage in a heated and passionate debate.

With the matter of sentences and spacing, the bar is set even lower: Have you ever written a paragraph? If you answer in the affirmative, then you are immediately capable of injecting your opinion into the debate.

While Mr. Manjoo comes across too much like a snooty bully for my tastes, his “side” of this debate is backed with more than ample research and information which, if you remove his taint, is quite convincing.

The real deal-breaker: everything anyone reads online or in newspapers or in magazines or in books. Almost every printed piece you’ve ever laid eyes on that wasn’t written for or by an educator uses a single space after sentences. Even the most conservative, anti-evolutionary, most change-o-phobic sites on the Interwebs use a single space between sentences.

What’s more, most of us have accepted this online reality without batting an eye. We read the papers and the Internet articles, and few of us notice or care about the single space.

Personally, here’s the reason I prefer single space: I’ve rarely if ever seen a single-spacer inconsistently use that option in writing. Double-spacers are maniacally inconsistent. Rarely if ever do I run across anything of modest length by a double-spacer where at least one or two sentences are followed accidentally by a single space. (My job requires that I read and edit lots of copy from lots of sources, so this isn’t some willy-nilly claim.)

A single space is economical. Eventually, piled up sentence after sentence, single spaces save trees. Compared to two-space people, I’ve probably saved a whole tree. And each tree means something to some little dog out there in the world, needing to take a piss. Or a bird needing to build a nest. Hell, it's possible I've helped save an entire small ecosystem compared to those wasteful, space-eating, greedy two-space sumbitch bastards.

Help save the planet. Stop pressing that space bar so many dadgum times. Quit using that lame “That’s how I was taught” nonsense and join us here in the 21st Century.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

She Be Kim-Jong-Illin'

Bleed American - Jimmy Eat World (mp3)

Amy Chua is the kind of guest blogger I’d love to have scorching up the pages of Bottom of the Glass. She’s clearly brilliant. She’s a great writer. She is convicted with strong opinion. And she’s off her frappin’ rocker.

She wrote a barnburner of an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” and pulls no punches in preaching her truth to us mamby-pamby American weenies.

I love that Eastern cultures don’t generally worry about annoying trifles like political correctness. They don’t let little things like notions of equality or universal rights get in the way of their perceived superiority. They don’t worry about self-esteem because they’re obviously the awesomest, so what’s to question?

In many ways, folks like Ms. Chua are a much smarter and more Type A version of the French, and she reminds me of that French knight from “Monty Python & the Holy Grail,” on the castle wall shouting insults down at the little English “kuuhhh-niggits!”

A lot of Western folks will read her piece and get all wiggy and pissed off and defensive. These people, I suspect, haven’t had much experience with families from Far Eastern countries like India or China, Japan or Korea. Seriously, if you can read that whole thing without once getting annoyed, pissed off, or rolling your eyes in disbelief, then you are a calmer soul than most parents I know. Or you’re not a parent, at which point you might just find the entire thing amusing on both ends.

One of my favorite sentences: “Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything.”

As is usually the case with brilliant, hyper-opinionated people, Ms. Chua’s argument is not entirely ludicrous; it’s only 15% ludicrous. But it’s a big, important 15%. One might suggest that Ms. Chua was being over the top to be provocative or funny, but I would have to honor her love of stereotypes by saying that I don’t know many over-the-top funny Chinese people. At least, not any who didn’t grow up in the U.S.

Funny doesn’t get good grades. Funny doesn’t play the hell out of an instrument. Funny doesn’t focus. Funny often requires a knowledge of stupid or useless information found in popular culture. Funny requires an impatience. Therefore, according to her, there’s nothing Chinese about Funny.

Funny is a waste of time and energy. Funny is Western civilization. Funny is pathetic.

What I really loved about Ms. Chua’s column is how hard she tries to pretend to be reasonable. It reminded me of comic book supervillains who pity the poor clueless hero and his pitiful weaknesses, like his notions of decency, honor, respect, foolish things with which one can never achieve world domination. Ms. Chua pities American parents, with all their sad focus on trifles like self-esteem, freedom, choice. And she does so with a disdain that oozes out of her eyeballs as she writes.

Because I’m a mamby-pamby relativist without the balls to believe much of anything to an extreme, I conveniently believe Ms. Chua is plenty right and plenty wrong. I believe her children might grow up more financially successful than my children, and I believe they might well play a meaner fiddle (or whatever their instrument of choice), and I believe they might well grow up with better grades. Might, as they say, doesn’t make right.

More importantly, I don’t believe any of that will lead to her girls, decades after they are independent, to be happier or more satisfied human beings. Nor does it increase their odds of doing anything more world-changing than my children. If American history has shown anything, something about the wacky way we raise kids kick-starts ingenuity, breeds insight, stirs inspiration.

Still, to outright dismiss Ms. Chua’s argument is also foolish. Plenty of the ways we raise our children deserve to be mocked or at least questioned, and the kind of rigor and level of expectation Far Eastern parents demand of their children have results that are often difficult to scorn too harshly.

When foreign students board at our schools and outscore us on the English section of our own college entrance exams, they're basically playing on our own home court with one hand behind their back and still kicking our butts. That kind of mismatch deserves respect.

In some sense, their parenting philosophy is much like the story of Ray Kinsella from “Field of Dreams.” Chinese parents believe If you build it, they will come. If you build up a high, almost-unattainable level of expectation, your children might get close to reaching it, and sometimes they might even rocket right past it.

We Amur’cans parent more like that age-old proverb stolen by Sting: If you love somebody, set them free. And, much like Sting’s music, it’s a very hit-and-miss proposition. When you drop a rock off a bridge, it rarely flies; it usually plunges in the water.

And, in honor of great American bumper stickers, my kids could kick your honor student kids’ butts! (Well, or at least they’re gonna be funnier.)

The truth is that all parents screw it up one way or another, because parenting isn’t some chemistry experiment. It’s not paint by numbers. It’s an organic experiment where every portion of the equation changes constantly, and where any attempt to roboticize the experience seems doomed to failure.

Then again, I'm quite positive it's myself and my own parenting that Ms. Chua would deem an utter failure. God bless us, everyone!

Editorial Follow-up (2:10 p.m., 1/13): A column by Lisa Miller in The Daily Beast catches up with Ms. Chua in the aftermath of her WSJ column. The information provided in this column is important and suggests the book is less extreme in its approach than the WSJ excerpt might suggest.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Hatred of Speech

Meg Baird--"I Don't Want To Talk About It" (mp3)

Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode. Seriously. It usually comes when I see too much television and when, on that television, there are a multitude of people talking. Just talking, talking, talking, as if they were paid to talk, which they are, as if they were paid by the word, which I don't know if that's true or not.

A given football game has a minimum of 6 people weighing in on the action--the play-by-play guy and the color guy, plus the four fucknuts sitting in the studio in New York City, offering their "insights" before the game, at halftime, and after the game. That does not even begin to include the talkers who have been previewing this game for a week or a month, or the ones who will break down the action after the fact for as long as there are words to say about it.

The same thing with economic recovery or how to fix unemployment. The same with health care or immigration or Afghanistan or the moon mission or the latest Iphone or how much money we think the poor American suckers spent at Christmas. Turn the TV dial (symbolically) or turn the radio dial and it's talk, talk, talk. Sometimes I can't take it.

Here is the modern world in a nutshell: we all wonder what should I, we, he, she, they, it do? In response, everyone in the world has an opinion. And those who are paid to do it spend all of their time telling us what we should do, what we should eat, how we should invest, where we should live, what we should believe, who we should trust. If Hamlet had had all of these spin doctors, prognosticators, and "experts," he'd still be hesitating. How is one to progress in such an environment?

The stupidest man in America is Rush Limbaugh. He's not the dumbest, for he certainly has the business savvy to turn being a bag of hot air into a very, very lucrative and influential career. No, he's the stupidest. Why? Because he wants to pretend that what he and his ilk babble and pontificate about week after week and year after year doesn't affect the way people act.

In particular, of course, he wants to believe that hate speech doesn't make people hate and then act on that hate.

Let me prove you wrong, you stupid ass. Simply. President George Herbert Walker Bush declared one day that he hated broccoli. We all know what happened. Sales of broccoli in this country plummeted. Broccoli growers were outraged that a president would use his "bully pulpit" to impact an industry so negatively. Yeah, Rush, it was just a man who hated a vegetable that his Mommy probably shoved down his throat when he was a kid. But people heard.

And then, of course, his son, in response to a Saudi Arabia-based terror attack on the U.S., created his famous "Axis of Evil" and started, with his staff, hammering home the idea that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. And guess what people believed? Guess who people hated? People hate what they are told is evil. And hated it enough to support an irrelevant war!

Now, I have no interest in making a connection between Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and the motives of the shooter in the Arizona slaughter (though I certainly do enjoy that these people are on the hot seat!), but I do want to argue the more general case: people who become well known become influential and have the power to impact the ways that people act. That shouldn't come as a surprise, and for Limbaugh to pretend otherwise is more than disingenuous; it's cowardly.

When the Hannitys and the Becks and the Limbaughs hammer away at a president, not his actions or policies, but at his very being to suggest that he is a "socialist" or a "racist" or a "Muslim" or a non-American or a person who "hates America" or "hates white people," then, yes, Rush, the people who listen to those types are going to develop hatred, and, yes, the less stable of this listeners may be more inclined to take or try to take some kind of confused, misguided action. When a president suggests that those who don't support his war are un-American, he creates the same kind of hatred.

But back to my original problem--there are thousands of bully pulpits out there now. That is no longer exclusive to the president. Sarah Palin has one, Glenn Beck has one, various commentators on ESPN have them (that they used to keep Peyton Manning from winning the Heisman), the Kardashians have one. Heck, even a comedian like John Stewart has one, which he used to break the logjam over a bill that would provide health care for First Responders on 9/11.

So when something like the Arizona tragedy occurs, the opinions from the talking heads come almost immediately and all of the talk, talk, talk, talk, talk becomes the point, becomes the story, becomes the purpose. While people lie dead or injured, those television faces and those radio voices have to be heard and then the story becomes the talkers reacting to what each other has said. It's kind of disgusting.

But I also can't pretend that the spotlights aren't on this situation, and so I have these takeaways: 1) Mrs. Palin is also a coward for hiding behind Facebook and Twitter to respond to the tragedy; coincidence or not, her PAC had crosshairs on key races, had a crosshair specifically on Rep. Giffords' race and she should have confronted this more directly, 2) Much as Mrs. Palin might like to celebrate Alaska as the last American frontier, once again, we see what an incredible mess Arizona is; the last state to embrace MLK's birthday is such a chaotic blend of immigration troubles, racist laws, "maverick" senators who have declared that they were never mavericks, violence, assassination, that it feels like Arizona has never gotten beyond the Wild West, and finally, 3) I wish that all of you professionals on TV, regardless of your professions, would just shut the fuck up for awhile, stop talking, stop backtracking, stop analyzing, stop trying to sell your positions.

If you want to relay the news to us, that's fine. I guess. I won't be watching. But other than that, all of you, from the left, the right, or just from your own ego, I'm really not interested in what you have to say. Maybe if you could think about it for awhile and then write it down, maybe it would have a little more weight. Maybe.

My apologies if you are offended by the highly-controversial editorial cartoon, which has outraged and disgusted some people, but it does make an important point. You might, for balance, take a look at Paul Revere's engraving of the Boston Massacre, which was published all over the country in 1770. As for the song, someone on another blog mistakenly identified it as a "Rod Stewart cover." The song was written by Danny Whitten, the Crazy Horse rhythm guitarist in the original line-up of Neil Young's off-again/on-again band, and it appears on Crazy Horse's first album away from Neil. There's a nice version out there by the Indigo Girls.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Flaky White Stuff

White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes (mp3)
Life is White - Big Star (mp3)

Sunday, my family spent more than $200 on clothing items, another $50 at Ace Hardware, and another $100 in groceries in spite of the fact that we’d been grocery shopping less than a week prior. My boss called me three different times. This is not usual on a Sunday.

Yesterday, My aunt and uncle rearranged their vacation and chose to remain with us longer than originally planned. Our friend who had to attend a relative’s funeral in Arizona is still out in Arizona. Almost a dozen people sent me pictures on my cell phone before noon, when most weeks I’m lucky to get two or three pics, and usually from just one or two specific people. Pics from school. Pics from Wal-Mart. Pics from driveways and living rooms.

My very selective Facebook friends (ha) posted at least a few hundred pictures yesterday. My friends don’t generally post many pictures.

Most unusually, I met four of my neighbors for the first time. We spent several hours sharing space with more than a dozen other children, teenagers and adults we hardly knew and hardly ever see.

All because it snowed.

Granted, Chattanooga didn’t just get a flurry. Most of the Southeast was slammed with a winter storm that woke us up Monday morning to more snow than we’ve seen in almost 20 years, since the freakish storm of March 1993. Perhaps the most astonishing part about this snow is how dead-on accurate the weather forecasts were. They’ve been spot-on all year regarding snow, actually.

Maybe you’re a person who has faith in weather forecasts. If you’re a person like that, you’re most definitely not from Chattanooga, because our particular geographical issues make us a damn tough place to predict weather. We know better. Weather forecasting might as well involve chicken blood or rolling dice.

Milk and bread jokes aside, what happened in our little neighborhood today, and what happened in neighborhoods all over the South, was something that just doesn’t happen much in our modern society. People actually hung out at length with their neighbors, and they did so outside and without the need for some party or BBQ or pre-determined Event. We shared sleds. We offered each other hot chocolate or other fun winter amenities. We took pictures of other families with their cameras and told stories while our children disappeared from view at moderate speeds.

One of my neighbors spent almost an hour shoveling the driveway of an elderly neighbor before ever even thinking of doing so for his own driveway. (In fact, I don’t know if he shoveled his own driveway at all today.) Two of us helped push the newspaper delivery dude down the road. Clearly the guy needed the money, because no other explanation fit his risking it with the piece of trash he drove.

Some rowdy teenage boys with awesome blade sleds, the kind of boys who tend to soar down a hill with reckless abandon and fail to think about small children or dogs who might get in their way, were nothing but polite and considerate. They offered their sleds to my daughters and several times shouted down as I was walking up to make sure the path was clear for them to be reckless and stupid.

It was the kind of neighborhood day people romanticize about, where everyone gets along, and no one talks about politics or broaches icky subjects like the NRA or traffic cameras. Everyone smiles at one another, because snow days are bigger than us in our little Dixieland and certainly bigger than our even littler neighborhood, and everyone around us has enough bread and milk and food, and we can all just smile and savor this rare occurrence together.

So we had that going for us. Which was nice.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Festival Of A Light

Cold War Kids--"Long As I Can See The Light" (mp3)

Yes, the holidays are over, but there is a celebration here that continues day after day.

Eighteen years ago, way back near the end of 1992, we moved into this house. My older daughter, about to graduate college, was three years old; my younger daughter was about to be born. My wife had finished law school the previous spring, and was in her first year of practice. My friends John, Hank, and Billy were unmarried. My friend Steve did not live across the street. Bill Clinton had just been elected for the first time. There had only been one war in Iraq. The Steelers still only had 4 Super Bowls. My mother was alive and well, with no hint of the cancer that would take her eight years later.

I could go on and on about how different the world was back then, but you get the idea. Inside the house, the same litany of changes since then.

But through it all, there is one thing that hasn't changed. Down in the basement, in a very small, tight bathroom that has all the trappings of having been homemade, there is a flourescent light that burns to this day, every time we turn it on.

We did not install the light. It was in place when we moved in, so I have no idea when it started its life of light. The fixture is actually a two-light fixture, but the lower light has long since worn out.

But this one light continues. And it has not been spared heavy use. For years, I have showered in that bathroom every morning; my wife usually does, too. We do not shower in the dark. I often use that room as my escape from the rest of the house, a place to sit and read. The larger room that the bathroom supports has served at different times as our den, my niece's hangout room when she lived with us, my older daughter's bedroom, a guest room, my younger daughter's room (briefly), the locale for untold sleepovers, Super Bowl parties, Tennessee football parties, including the second half of the championship game, plus clothes-folding marathons and music fests of various sources. I can't even begin to guess how much beer has been swallowed down in that room. We do not pee in the dark.

We are also not a family known for turning off lights, and that light has run for hours, sometimes run for days, even for the duration of brief vacations when we have neglected to turn it off.

I fully realize that this means nothing to you. It's an anomaly, a quirk, a meaningless occurence. It's the toy in the drawer that still works, the lawnmower that starts after being left outside all winter, the dead Ipod that starts working after you whack it against the wall.

But I think there is something to these smallest of miracles.

Miracle? Yes. Miracles are signs. Miracles startle us with the unexpected; they make us pause and rexamine everything beyond us. As Miriam-Webster reminds us:

Definition of MIRACLE
1: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs
2: an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment

I'll leave the choice of more appropriate definition to you. For me, that light coming on each day, especially now as it takes longer to "warm up" and how it needs to "blink" one time before it's fully on is a reminder that the laws of the universe, the rules of physics, the expectations of nature and science don't always apply. Whoever made this light expected me to have to place it ten or more years ago, way back when all of the other flourescents went out. There was money to be made from the replacement. That size light may not even exist anymore. I don't know who made it or why it's still working, but no one else can explain it either.

For some reason, I find great comfort in that.

Cold War Kids' cover of the classic Creedence song comes from Cover Me Songs.