Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ska and Riots

I was flooded with a memory this morning when my Zune picked three Reel Big Fish songs at the gym.

On August 10th, 2005, a rare event happened in Columbia during the summer. It was rare enough that an event was happening at all since 3/4th of the population was gone on summer break, but this event was actually fantastic.

Two concerts were planned in town on the same day, and the promoters for the Blue Note decided to combine the shows. If you had a ticket to either one, you could see the super show now happening. 311, Papa Roach, Unwritten Law, and Reel Big Fish were playing a show for less than $30.

There was this small amphitheater set up behind the Mizzou basketball stadium that I had never noticed. It was probably the worst place I've ever seen a show.

Anyone that bought general admission tickets had to stand on this ridiculously steep hill while those that shelled out $80 a ticket, were able to stand in front of the stage, casually sipping beer because broke college kids couldn't afford those tickets. They had all the room in the world.

Reel Big Fish played a fantastic show, but they unfortunately had to open for everyone and only got to play about six songs.

Unwritten Law was a band that I enjoyed listening to, but wasn't the biggest fan. They recently had lost a guitar player to drugs. So one member down, they played a full set that was pretty entertaining. They won me over enough that I purchased their newest album when I got home that night.

The surprise of the night came when Papa Roach took the stage. I didn't care much for Papa Roach, but this night, they won me over.

After a couple songs, the singer started complaining about how all the best fans were standing on this hill a mile from the stage. They then played one of their hits, "Between Angels and Insects" and the singer incited a mini-riot. "Tear the mother-f-ing wall down. I want to see you beautiful people up here."

The lawn erupted into a mosh pit. People started tearing down the chain link fence that separated the lawn and the nice seats. It was so animalistic and therapeutic. It was one of the most memorable times I've ever had at a show.

Papa Roach left the stage and the fancy seats were now flooded with a few thousand college kids. Security gave up and everyone had a prime spot for 311.

Then, one of my friends said I should go to the bathroom and clean myself up from my post riot appearance.

I went to the bathroom but was sidetracked when I passed a guy in a sweet mohawk. I did your standard movie double take. I was standing next to Reel Big Fish. Reel Big Fish and I went way back to highschool. They headlined several Warped Tours I went to, came to town every summer with a cavalcade of my favorite punk and ska bands, and generally wrong great, uptempo music.

"You guys are Reel Big Fish."

The bassist was the first to turn and without thinking said, "What the hell happened to you?"

I chatted them up for a few minutes. They are still one of the coolest bands I've ever met. I asked them if they could sign my ticket because no one would believe my story. I pulled the ticket out and they were amazed at the pristine condition it was still in. You would've thought that someone just printed it. They spent a few more minutes calling the roadies over, showing them my ticket, amazed at how crisp it was.

They signed my ticket, and I continued on my original mission. Looking back at my in the mirror was a guy with a busted open lip, grass in his hair (I still had some then), and bloodstains all over his shirt. I had never been happier.

Friday, August 23, 2013

About Batman

I've had time to think about this. Too much. In fact I've moved onto the part where I feel guilt that I skipped a news story about chemical weapons being used in Syria to read about Ben Affleck. (Side note: Brett Hull was actually the one to break the Ben news to me. Best way to have it delivered.)

My knee jerk reaction was, "Why Ben? He's a great director, pretty good writer, but when has he pulled off great acting." 

I don't think Ben Affleck being a mediocre actor is bothering me as much as it was last night. 

He's been good (not great) in some things (Hollywoodland, Dogma, Phantoms (Da Bomb!), Good Will Hunting) and he's been bad in many things. Too many things to list here. But thanks to YouTube, I have a compilation at my hands.

If you think about it, everyone that has played Batman has been mediocre. It's up to the writers and director to make it happen. 

Michael Keaton was the only one that pulled it off, but that also is partly thanks to the amazing Gotham Tim Burton dreamed up and Jack Nicholson's Joker. 

I think the biggest issue I have with Ben Affleck is I'm not going to be able to see past Ben Affleck. I had the same issue with Cloony, even before I saw the Bat nipples or Arnold's first pun. 

With Christian Bale, Michael Keaton, and even Val Kilmer to an extent, I was able to forget who the actor was and just see Bruce Wayne/Batman. With Ben Affleck, I'm going to see the guy that blew up an asteroid and was engaged to Jennifer Lopez. 

It sucks for Ben. He truly loves comics and when you have someone like Chris Evens playing multiple heroes and he doesn't read comics, you hope for a little justice in the world. 

His best chance at making a superhero believable would've been Iron Man. He's good looking, rich, and had a drinking problem. But thanks to Robert Downy's insane performance, no one will ever be able to pull off a better Iron Man. Never. 

So I'll be in the theater, day one, to see Supes and Bats duke it out. 

I'll be there day one when this inevitably leads to Justice League. 

And if Ben makes it to his own Batman movie, I'll be there opening weekend as well. 

I sort of feel like this is going to usher in another revolving door of Batman actors like we did in the early 90's before Batman goes on another 10 year hiatus. DC has always had issues casting their superhero films. DC really should just hire Chris' to play every. They've had their best runs with Christopher Reeves, Chris Nolan, and Christian Bale. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness and Deforming the American Dream

As long as I can remember, the American Dream has been presented as this nostalgic view of the suburbs in the 50's, American made car in the driveway, with the father mowing a lawn, drinking a beer, while his 2.5 children play in their incredibly green yard. The wife, slender and always done up in makeup, comes out of the house holding a freshly baked pie, the neighbor waves, the dog barks, and everyone has a smile on their face.

When I got older I realized that this wasn't exactly the dream. The dream was not to live in poverty. Not to be in a war torn, oppressive country. The dream was having so little to worry about you actually had something called leisure time. 

This dream came about thanks to the industrial revolution. Much like the Renaissance period, everything was all of a sudden easier and plentiful. There was time to philosophize, create art, and just sit around drinking a bottle of wine with friends. 

Like the pre-Industrial Revolution, Sal and I don't have an overabundance of time or money. We both work overtime and extra jobs and have been since college. We both feel a suffocating and incredible stress at least twice a year.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. We can still basically go out and get a drink whenever we want. We're much better off than most of the world. But the sort of abundance you need to just jump on a plane and hang out in Italy for a couple weeks is only obtainable as our paychecks climb higher and our debt lower. 

I don't think my American dream is the suburbs. My American dream reads more like a checklist, some would call it a bucket list. Things to do before I die.
  • See a top level football match in Europe.
  • Eat steak tartar and drink a bottle of nice French wine in Paris
  • See the Blues win the Stanley Cup and subsequently kiss the cup.  
  • Drink a Guinness from the brewery in Dublin
  • Learn to snowboard
  • Get something published.
  • Tip someone a ton of money on Christmas Eve. - I've always wanted to do this at Denny's. Show up, eat my Grand Slam, and then leave $100. 
  • Tour Napa Valley without a plan. Just show up, drink wine, and find a place to stay each night. 
  • Have one of my beer creations commercially sold, even if just for one run. 
  • Have a hop filled tour of the Pacific Northwest. 
  • See a major Canadian team NHL game: Canadiens or Maple Leafs
I don't think my list is asking too much. Like many of my peers, the goals I want to accomplish are mostly experiences rather than "things." 

Check back in August of 2017. That's the month my student loans and car will be paid off. Sure, we'll have other debt by then, but the amount those two things tie up could send me and Sal to Europe in a nice hotel within 3 months of not having to pay them. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Hacking the Excitement My Brain is Feeling

If you listen to Podcasts, watch Netflix, or browse the internet, at some point you've probably come across a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk. Essentially, the Sapling Foundation hosts these conferences where leading geniuses in their fields give lectures about some really interesting theories and ideas.

Well TED recently (as of March 1st, 2013) started a radio hour on NPR and started releasing a podcast. Sometimes the subject is on something I'm not really interested in, but this week, "The Hackers" episode had me on the edge of my seat.

The episode started with Mikko Hypponen discusses "good hackers." Ones that aren't out to create viruses and steal your iTunes account information. He ended up hunting down the guys that programmed one of the original computer viruses that was distributed on a floppy disk.

Then, the one that excited me the most, Stewart Brand essentially explains how Jurassic Park might not be that far off. Essentially, if we have enough DNA of an extinct animal, we can splice that DNA with a living creature and bring them back.

He said it is likely that a 30 year old today will see the first Saber-toothed tiger born in millions of years. (Thank you tar pits) He talked about how we could bring the Dodo bird back, woolly mammoths, extinct big cats, really the list is just about endless.

He didn't say Dinosaur, but if we found a mosquito encased in amber with enough DNA, just maybe...

Then David Keith discussed ways in which we could control weather. He even offered a last ditch effort to save us from global warming that involves fitting airplanes with sulfuric acid and spraying it into the sky.

And the last talk was Andres Lozano, who discussed the history of mapping the brain and how it is possible to install little defibrillators to fight depression, Alzheimer's, and other brain disorders.

It's crazy to think that these are real things being worked on when only twenty years ago most the country didn't have internet access, and now we're discussing the real possibility of controlling weather and hacking the brain.

We're talking about futuristic stuff here people. If you aren't excited, something is broken inside of you. Don't worry though, someone is probably working on a way to hack the excitement part of your brain to get it working again.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Love Letter to Lisa Frank and 5 Star Notebooks

As a child, the only exciting thing about school starting again was buying school supplies. This was a way to craft your identity for the year. 

Many times I would buy the blank cheap folders so I could draw anything I wanted. It usually depended on what I was into drawing that year.
  • 2nd Grade: huge battleships
  • 3rd Grade: skeletons, zombies, and skaters
  • 4th Grade: tattoo styled drawings
  • 5th Grade: horror themed drawings or 3rd grade revisited
  • 6th Grade: Southpark

Most of my peers came to school in their awesome Dallas Cowboys Starter Jackets with Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49's folders. I never cared much for football or being with the in crowd. I rocked my Lotto jacket just as hard as their Starter gear. 

The NHL was terrible with licensing at the time, so I couldn't sport a Blues folder easily. 

The girls were into Lisa Frank. I'll admit, there was a part of me that was jealous. The colors on those folders were insane.

Instead, I was a fan of the "No Rules" line of Trapper Keeper folders. You know, the ones that were deliciously 90's extreme. 

These are two I actually owned, as well as one with bears playing hockey.
I however was not a Trapper Keeper binder sort of guy. Instead, I liked the Five Star binders that had the zippers. There are three reasons I can think of for my preference:

  1. The ad campaign during Saturday morning cartoons
  2. Because they were functionally better (more pockets)
  3. There was a game in my elementary school where you would try to knock an unsuspecting kid's books and pencil box out of his hands and all over the hallway. The zipper made cleanup much easier. 

When it came to colored pencils, it was Crayola or get the F*CK out! 

Anything other than Crayola had duller colors and tips that would break every 15 minutes. 

Notebooks had to have perforated edges and be college ruled. I swear, if you hand me a piece of notebook paper that has the nasty edges from being ripped from a binder, we're no longer friends. 

And lastly, the lunchbox. Early on, I usually was rocking Ghostbusters or Ninja Turtles. Then I switched to the brown bag, but because of the game I mentioned earlier, it often ended up on the floor, bruising my banana. 

My solution was to eat a simple combination of a sandwich, fruit snack, and CapriSun. Sure the sandwich might be a soggy mess by lunch, but I could deal with that. By the end of school, I'm starving and would make up the lack of calories at dinner where I would stuff two plate fulls into my mouth.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mr. Fong

The second neighbor Sal and I met in our house was this incredibly happy Vietnamese man next door.

He was always sitting on his front porch, tallboy in hand, cigarette hanging from his mouth, smiling and waving.

He didn't speak much English. He had maybe a half dozen phrases, things like "Nice day!" Then he would get this giant grin on his face and wave. He would say this whether it was 65 degrees with a fantastic breeze or if it were 105 degrees, no cloud cover, and 90% humidity.

Every Spring, his grass would grow to several feet and then he would appear in his sweat soaked red baseball cap with a weed whacker, cutting his lawn down like an adventurer with a machete in the jungle. To celebrate his adventure, yes, he would smoke a cigarette and drink a few tallboys.

We always seemed to suffer yard work on the same schedule. Every time I was out there, sweating, regretting having a yard, he was out there picking weeds and growing exotic gourds.

Every Sunday, his family would show up with a six pack of Heineken, and he would answer the door with a smile on his face.

I always wanted to meet him. Just sit on the porch, silent, drinking a tallboy with him, taking in the day and admiring the lawns we had just cut.

But alas, life got in the way. I spent two out of the three summers in my house, locked up with a broken leg. I worked a second job sometimes on the weekends the past two summers. And sometimes I was just too tired to try and chat him up.

And every spring I thought, maybe this was the summer we shared a Budweiser.

We had not seen him or his wife much this year. His family still diligently comes over every Sunday, but a landscaping service started showing up to take care of his lawn. (As a side note, they always showed up at the worst times, like when we were BBQing, and they always seem a little drunk.) I would still look up from the mower to see if maybe his red cap would make an appearance.

When our tree debacle happened, Sal and I asked if we could repair his yard. He hobbled to the front door and looked frail. He still smiled at us and although I'm not sure he understood much of what I said, but he still said, "yes, yes, yes" and shook my hand.

We noticed that medical supply vans were showing up lately, dropping off oxygen. We haven't seen him or his wife leave the house at all. His car went up for sale. These were all signs that his health was failing.

Today, I overheard his granddaughter talking with the landscaping crew, who were trying to collect their fee.

She said that he was in hospice and that they were sending him home Monday so that he could die in his own home. He is beyond any help.

Through another neighbor I found out that his name was Mr. Fong. I expect that sometime this week, I will see an ambulance show up to collect Mr. Fong's body.

I think I'm going to feel a bit sad for the potential silent bond we could've shared. Irritated at myself for not making the simple gesture of wandering over to his porch and popping a can open with him.

I think when I see it happen, I will walk to the store, buy a couple tallboys, and sit on my front porch in honor of Mr. Fong.

I think he would've wanted it that way.