Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Home in the Alternate Universe

We will spend the next four days in a land of make believe.

Tomorrow Sal and I adventure to our 8th True/False film festival in Columbia. I always feel light, like none of my personal problems exist.

I live in this alternate universe where I'm embedded in running a successful theater, entrenched in film. In a way, David Wilson, one of the co-founders of the RagTag cinema and True/False Film Fest is living the life I wish was possible.

It's one of those classic, dollar short and a day late situations. Had I been born just a few years earlier and graduated with a few thousand less in debt, I might have taken a huge risk opening an independent theater and it would be me running around for the next 7 days with no sleep.

I always leave the festival feeling rejuvenated, empathetic to the real problems of the world, unfathomably sad for situations people are born into, and celebratory of the simple human experience.

Even outside the films, there's something magical about the city of Columbia. It may be the nostalgic energy flowing through my veins. This short period of time where I didn't necessarily have true adult issues, protected from the outside world by the promise of a great life. But I was independent. I lived on my own, made my own schedule, did whatever I wanted to do.

We come back from the film festival Sunday afternoon and have that Monday off so that we could go to the Central West End and watch the Academy Awards with some friends at iTap.

Last year we had a blast at this party, and we didn't even see most the films. This year, we've managed to see most the nominated films.

Get Out
Lady Bird
Baby Driver
Star Wars
The Shape of Water

(And there's a chance, a small one, but a chance, that we will fit Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri in before Sunday.)

I may be more excited about this weekend than anything else I'm doing this year. I'm ready to give myself to the magic of Columbia, documentary films, Hollywood, good beers, better friends, and great memories.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Separating the Art from the Artist

The #MeToo movement kicked off as sort of a second wave of the Women's March from early 2017. It's has brought down many powerful men from Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K.,  Max Landis, and Kevin Spacey.

It's an important movement. When so much of America's social progression is being rolled back to some semblance of the "good ole' days" (for white middle class men), the #MeToo movement is making sure that the abuse of power that has been going on since the beginning of time is at least thought twice about by the abusers.

None of the people being brought down really affected me. 

Al Franken was a tough one for me to swallow, but not impossible. He's a man that seemed to have a more than ton of integrity, supported many progressive ideals that I do, and was a possible Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2020. Having his voice removed from Senate, I believe is more harmful than not. But you have to take your medicine when you screw up.

But a few weeks ago, there was one I didn't expect and I'm having a hard time with it.

When we moved from North County to St. Charles, I went into a deep depression. There were several factors into this depression: deaths, loneliness, medication, body issues, and general boredom in the suburbs. It was more than a normal moody teenager depression, but not quite a suicidal (at least I don't think it ever got to that point) depression. It bounced somewhere between the two where there wasn't enough to be taken seriously, but enough to where all I did was sit in my room alone listening to music.

Your Favorite Weapon by Brand New came out in 2001 and I finally felt like I found friends. These were guys around my age and felt betrayed by society and women. Bolstered by the single "Jude Law and a Semester Abroad," I've keep the radio on 93x, waiting to hear the song again until I finally found a copy on CD at Slackers.

My friendship grew with them through their next album Deja Entendu, often seen as their breakthrough into critical acclaim. Like me, the album showed the band growing. Still an awkward teen, but under the stubble and clever hooks, you could see the adult product.

And I continued with each album growing a little. The lyrics kept speaking to me.

The last show I saw at Mississippi Nights was Brand New. The first time I hung out with my sister-in-law Beth alone was at a Brand New concert. I followed every rumor and overly complex info drop on the band.

Hell, last year when I was in St. Charles, Cory fell asleep at 8 pm and I wandered my old high-school football field and ex-girlfriend's neighborhoods, listening to every Brand New song from start to finish to just completely soak in the weird nostalgia I was feeling.

I bring this up because the lead singer of Brand New, Jesse Lacey was accused of hounding underage women for nude pictures in his mid-20s. And his recent Facebook apology seems to confirm a lot of what he's accused of.

I'm having a hard time separating the art from the artist. I mean, can you even do that cleanly? Or am I doomed to secretly listen to Brand New albums in my basement wearing headphones for the rest of my life? Can I even listen to them anymore without getting flashes of teenage girls, shaking uncontrollably because their favorite band's singer is giving them attention, but in return for the attention he wants to see them with their shirt off?

I think, like with any breakup, the best way to get clarity is to remove yourself from the situation. Maybe I move all of that vinyl to a box in the basement for a few years, let time hopefully heal the wounds of the victims, give Jesse time to try to properly atone for these grievances, until when moving out of our starter house I find a bunch of old dusty Brand New albums and listen to the art and some old friends of mine, but not the artist.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thank You Detroit

Sal and I were planning on going to Montreal this year to meet up with some of her work friends, have her try out the French she's been learning, and take in a Blues game.

Unfortunately with all the house repairs we did, we had to change plans to a much cheaper destination, sunny wintery Detroit. (On further examination, this still wasn't actually cheap, so we'll be spending a lot of weekends in. You know, hindsight.)

We were met with the same, "Aren't you afraid of Detroit? Like, getting murdered or whatever? You know they have gun fights in the streets there in between Lions and Red Wings games" question from everyone. And the truth is, no. We weren't scared.

  1. St. Louis is usually fighting with Detroit for that distinction.
  2. What I've learned about that crime list is that it's all terribly misrepresented and doesn't take into account all stats. IE: Does the county count as the general population? Does all of this crime take place in one part of the city?
  3. Sal and I generally aren't scared. It's easy to be smart. Generally if you keep a lookout on your surroundings, carry mace, and don't go out of your way to go to shady places, you're going to do OK. 
We arrived in Detroit via Indianapolis on Friday afternoon and immediately went to my favorite Founders. The place was packed (we didn't realize it had opened up a week earlier). Sal and I got a beer and sort of meandered until a nice older couple invited us to sit at their table. We made small talk with them, but nothing more.
breweries tap room,

Then we saw two guys sort of standing around and invited them to sit down. Sallie and I like chatting up locals and get recommendations. The internet's recommendations can only get you so far. 

So we started asking these guys questions about their favorite bars, what they did, etc. One of them had worked as a carpenter for the Detroit Public Library for 22 years and is a union leader, the other guy is a plumber for the library and has only been there for a year. 

We shared a couple drinks with them and just listened to how much Detroit had changed in 30 years. They ended up thanking us for giving Detroit a chance. The Union Leader had a meeting to get to, but the other wanted to show us his favorite bottle shop around the corner, so off we went where we chatted up the bartender, hung out with our new plumber friend, and they together gave us a good breakfast recommendation the next day.

After that, Sal and I ate at this fantastic place called the Rusted Crow. Great food, great drinks, surrounded be amazing parks that were all decked out in Christmas lights.

After our bellies were full, I had to do what I knew I had to do... I had to walk down to the old Joe Louis Arena where the Red Wings have played since 1979 up until last year. It's sort of a hockey temple along with the hall of fame and Madison Square Garden. It's due for demolition, so this was going to be my last chance. We brazed the heavy winds and snow.

We ended the night at a brewery called Batch Brewing just in time for last call.

We really got to see a beautiful city at night. Detroit's architecture hearkens to a time where they had more money than they knew what to do with. Gargoyles, towering building, marble, statues, just a gorgeous reminder that this once was an empire. 

On Saturday, we woke up and ate breakfast at Hop Cat... and our same bartender from the night before was working here too. Little stalkerish on our part, but we were hungry and had no options, so it worked.

After brunch, we walked the mile down to Little Ceasar's arena in a beautiful light snowfall.

The building is beautiful. Natural light pours in from every outside wall. There are about a dozen legit restaurants and tap houses to choose from. The score board is almost as large as most other arenas.

The only issue is you climb an almost vertical staircase, to sit in the smallest seats I've ever sat in, and you don't even have a great view. They built some of the boxes to hang out about 30 or 40 rows out. Sure they put TVs on the back of the boxes for us in the nosebleeds, and sure you technically can see all of the ice, but it felt claustrophobic. Also, if a dude over 5'9" sits in front of you, you can't see the nearest corner of the ice.

Also, everyone was super interested in what the Little Ceasar's was like in the arena. Well, I'm sad to report, even $5 Hot and Ready's were hit with stadium pricing, and cost $13.

We left the arena to a sweet 6-1 Blues win and just sort of bar hopped back toward our apartment.

We went to some hip bar playing techno music that supposedly mad fancy cocktails but didn't even know what a sazerac was. We then found a hotel bar that was a little more divey. We chatted up the bartender who was a 30 year old artist that works two bartending jobs in the city. She gave us all the best local bars to go to and a shot called Detroit's Dirty River (I think it was called that, it was dark blue) for thanking us for coming to Detroit.

The next four hours are a blur of new sights, tastes, friends. We ate at a great place called Rock City Eatery, made friends with who we assumed was the owner of Motor City Brewing who gave us a beer on the house and one in a can to take home. Then the waiter at Motor City Brewing was also the same guy that was our waiter at Founders. He recognized us and sent us to a dive bar called Bronx Bar, and then we ended the night at Jolly Pumpkin Brewing.

This was on the b-tier list of places we wanted to go because they specialize in sour beers... and it's just not a good idea to drink a ton of sour beers on vacation... cause well... you're basically drinking bacteria that could do things to your stomach.

But, it being our last stop, we figured we were safe. And we again chatted some awesome guys up at the bar who were pilots for UPS, one of which was from St. Louis. We spent a solid 90 minutes hanging out with them until we went back to the air BND we were staying at.

The next day, we woke up, had breakfast, and stopped by Third Man Records on the way out the door. This record store is owned by Jack White of the White Stripes fame. It's a record store for lovers of music. They actually press vinyl in house and release old blues albums from the 30s, allow independent artists to record cheap, and they have the only live to tap recording equipment in the country.

It's a really cool spot, had this yellow theme that really worked.

We grabbed a few live records from their store shows, a record cleaning kit, and a slip pad for our record player. And again... we chatted up the dude working there. He was so excited and happy that we specifically came to his store that he threw in a $60 pair of headphones for free.

All I can say is everything you've heard about Detroit is wrong. I've never felt more welcomed by such a diverse group of people that are so incredibly proud of their city. It felt like a community of people that I have been chasing since I was a child. This real feeling of neighborhood pride, people that go out together, and talk to each other.

As we got on US-24 south, we both started talking about our next trip to Detroit. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

My Favorite Horror Films

It seems like I've not written a blog for a long time. The truth is, I haven't published a blog in a long time. I've written about 15 about Black Lives Matter, Trump, our allies in the world, the demise of penguins, the demise of bees, the divide between rural and urban populations blogs. I've researched and written and just generally get depressed about the state of the world and give up.

One thing we've been doing lately that I've really enjoyed is instead of having a book club with friends, we've started a film club. Every 3-4 weeks, Sallie, a couple of our friends, and I nominate films we think other people should see. It's been a nice reason to put the phone down for two hours, turn out the lights, and really pay attention to a film.

I love horror films. Unfortunately, my compatriots do not.

Well, the spirit of October is in the air, and even though my three other companions are wusses when it comes to horror movies, they've picked my scary films twice. We've watched The Thing and Halloween and they've been hits. Sooooo, trying to blog about something lighter, I present to you, my top 10 favorite horror films.

28 Days Later (2002)

The zombie genre was a favorite of mine since a video game in 1995 ignited my love. They were always the slow, meandering zombies which are scary in their own right. Meant to swarm you with vast numbers, ripping your flesh from your bones.

And then Danny Boyle thought of something a little different... what if the zombies were fast?

Some of the most successful horror movies are the ones where the monsters aren't the scary part and 28 Days Later does this perfectly. The humans are the ones that really made you feel uncomfortable. Constantly being stressed and stalked by these fast moving monsters, the humans in the film crack and start acting like animals.

The Thing (1982)

We watched this in film club recently and I forgot how good it is. The mid-to-late 80s was when it started getting harder to build a horror film where you were actually cut off from help. Technology was advancing, some early cell phones were on the market, every house had multiple cordless phones. So how do you give that sense of dread that no help is coming.

You trap a bunch of scientists on an Antarctic base, with very few weapons, and have an alien that can take the form of any of your comrades. The wet 80's practical effects still hold up.

Halloween (1978)

I watched this movie on Halloween by myself for the first time ever. Brothers were gone, parents were gone, I was alone in a giant dark house and I scared the crap out of me.

I remember the film ended and I had to go to the bathroom so bad, but I was too scared and sat on the couch uncomfortable for almost 90 minutes until people started coming home.

This isn't a slasher film, it's a film about voyeurism. And that person that is watching you, is the paranormal embodiment of evil.

VHS (2012)

I watched this while I worked one day and it disturbed me. I can't even really tell you what it's about and have been too unsettled to go back and watch it again.

A group of people are hired to go steal a VHS tape from this old run down house. They watch the tape and find some cryptic and disturbing things happening on them.

I need to go back to this at some point, just to see if it actually lives up to my hype, but I've just not had the energy to do it. Maybe I need to talk other people into watching it with me so I can't back out.

Scream (1996)

The opening scene to Scream is one of the greatest in horror film history. We find our young teenage girl making popcorn and calls start coming to the house. Someone is messing with her. The tension builds for nearly 20 minutes until we finally see the opening credits.

Scream is one of those films that is incredibly smart. It pokes fun at horror tropes while making them scary in new and refreshing ways.

I wore my VHS copy of Scream out. I can probably still quote every line.

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist succeeds in making the paranormal feel real. Your brain runs through all of the things you would do in Regan's family's place and you realize there is nothing you can do. We are helpless in the face of real evil.

The Exorcist slowly builds tension to creepy payoffs several times through the film. There's a reason why it's a classic.

Exorcism of Emily Rose (2006)

Unlike the Exorcist, the Exorcism of Emily Rose puts you in a real life situation. One most of us can relate to. Young adult, living away from parents for the first time, and un-natural things start happening to your body. You start blacking out for periods of time. Your spin contorts in ways you didn't think physically possible.

OK, well maybe we can't relate to everything, but if the ending was a little better, this would be the first exorcism film in decades to be a classic.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

"They're coming for your Barbara..." I first saw this on channel 11 in the middle of the day. I often just sort of played action figures while I let films run one after another on channel 11. This is probably why I'm so into film.

I watched as the car pulled into the rural cemetery as the guy playfully made fun of Barbara and then "BAM! Zombies."

Stuck in a farmhouse over night, Night of the Living Dead subtlety captures racism in America in a way many films have tried and failed.  Now that I think about it, maybe this film is the reason why I always feel so unsettled the further from a city I get.

Paranormal Activity (2007)

The supernatural both is an incredible curiosity of mine and terror. Films that are able to scare you with the unseen after often the best.

Usually where these films go wrong is they try to explain the haunting. Usually it's something lame like witches or a voodoo curse. Paranormal Activity only hints at the reason why and let's your brain fill in the rest.

Frankenstein (1931)

We're lead to believe that Frankenstein's monster is actually the horror of this film, but it's people. It's always people.

Imagine if you will, that you were born 8 feet tall, with the strength of 10 men, but with the mind of a child. You don't know how to control your power or what the rules of the world are. And as you're learning, humans fear you, attack you, and scare you.

It's a problem humans have had since the beginning. When we fear something we don't understand, we make irrational choices from deep within our monkey brains.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Connecting at the Bar Top

I had one of those conversations this week that just hit you at such a human level that I've been reflecting on it for a few days now.

This is a guy I work with and besides being employed by the same company, we have almost nothing in common.

He's from super rural southwestern Wisconsin, I'm in South City St. Louis.

He goes trap shooting on the weekends, I play video games or board games.

Fishing pole, hockey stick.

Basketball, hockey.

He drinks margaritas, I drink beer.

Proud Trump support with 2 daughters, almost anyone else and 3 cats.

Hot weather, cold weather.

Last time we had some beers together, things got heated. He even admits he came looking for a fight after being surrounded by citizens of one of the most liberal cities in the midwest for a week. It was 3 weeks after Trump took office and just about everyone he encountered in Madison was talking shit. He saw Sal, Rob, and I at a table and introduced himself as, "Hey, I'm Dan, just a dumb ole Republican."

From there it devolved into arguing over the travel ban that never went far and how to stop terrorism.

This time, we found ourselves both belly up to the bar and just talked about life.

I knew his wife had died several years ago (6 from what I found out) because he got a gun range named in her honor.

He made mention of her and I decided to engage.

He told me about how she constantly joked about everything and was always telling him how he took things too seriously.

She loved shooting guns and drinking margaritas.

They loved to travel together.

Then on a trip she started feeling a little sick. They initially thought maybe it was Montezuma's Revenge, but when it didn't go away when they got home, she went to the hospital.

Even while there all day getting blood drawn and various tests ran, she was calling her husband throughout the day telling him jokes.

Then they found out she had colon cancer and from there you know the rest of the story. It all happened quickly, she was the positive force the entire time, and my peer... friend... is mourning her everyday going on six years.

It's one of the things I like most about the bar table. You can go belly up against it with almost anyone, have a drink, and leave all of your outside fears outside the door and just connect on a human level.

Granted it can and does go the other way sometimes, but that's also a great thing about a bar, you can call each other idiots all you want as long as there's still liquid in your glass.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Anger Burns Hot

I've been angry since January.

I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about the direction of the country and how to fight it.

I have a tightness I keep in my chest 24 hours a day where I'm trying to find a balance between discussing issues poignantly with right, left, center and projecting how things should be.

I've been trying to engage people with opposition views to my own, not only to grow my own opinions, but hopefully give them something to think about.

I was exhausted trying to track down what was inflammatory tactics to get me to chase the wrong ball when the real insidious thing was happening in the next yard.

Things were dangerously close to being normalized to me.

Yesterday, we had Nazi's proudly walking in our streets. This is no hyperbole, these polo wearing, torch carrying racists carried Swastika covered flags and chanted "blood and soil" in between for "n***** to go back to Africa" and blaming the Jews for the world's problems.

They did this without masks like the KKK in the past. They were not worried about losing their jobs or have people track down where they live. They felt like there were no repercussions to marching through the streets. They felt like they had nothing to worry about.

I was feeling exhausted. But after seeing the events happen yesterday, after watching that tinted windowed car plow through 20 people, and the comments blaming Black Lives Matter for the Nazis getting violent, I am re-energized  and uncompromising.

I won't quietly listen to your points on why we should block Pakistanis from coming to the US. I won't listen to you say, "well give Trump a chance, he's only been president for 6 months."

We had Nazis in our streets, loud and proud, in America 2017. There shouldn't be a gap here. There should be no left and right. There should only be right and wrong.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Struggle of the City

Is every city struggling?

I find myself constantly having to defend St. Louis for bad decisions, for appearing on the top crime list year after year, for the intense segregation, the empty blocks of buildings, the empty downtown on weekdays, but the more I travel, the more I realize it's less of a St. Louis problem and more of a major city problem.

I wandered around downtown Cincinnati for several hours tonight, just taking in the streets and it had such a familiar feel I pulled up my phone map several times to make sure I was actually in Ohio.

I saw the street by street divide. Race street had predominantly African American families hanging out in the park and listening to music whereas one street away...

Vine street was predominantly white, filled with people enjoying craft beers with Cincinnati Reds shirts on. There were huge swaths of land where upscale markets and restaurants lined the streets, but all closed by 8 pm on Vine street.

Rural and Suburb living isn't for me. There's too much space. Too little diversity. It creeps me out. But I understand why people would want to live there. There's the relative safety, the elbow space, the greenery, and the "newness." But me, I like the patina of decades of use city concrete has on it.

There's a beauty in knowing your neighbors so intimately that you have to work as a somewhat cohesive unit.

Sure, people throw their Big Gulps into the street, and paint is coming off the buildings, and billboards are covered in graffiti, and most bricks need a good acid wash, and the summer heat can magnify all of your problems, but it's great to be a human unit, rather than small tribes where you know the 3-4 people that live in your house with you and maybe one or two neighbors on your street.

I talk to anyone in my neighborhood that is willing to listen.

Woody Allen's City doesn't exist for anyone but the rich. The real city is smelling the BO of people that have worked hard, the faint smell of cigarillos drifting in the air, and the sound of people playing their music loud and proud for their neighbors to hear. It's teenagers making noise in skate parks and basketball courts, the traffic and sirens, and the aroma of seemingly infinite ethnicity all making the food their parents taught them to make.

I love the city. Others may spit at it. They may say it's too dangerous, that it a hive of sin and excess, but to me, the city is where real life is. You're face to face with both poverty and vast richness. You can rub elbows with anyone. You can have the best night or the worst night of your life in the city.

She's a beautiful, tough, lively and diverse environment. I don't know that I could ever do it any other way.