Monday, October 24, 2011

Winter Break

I wrote this back in my collegiate days when I still got to enjoy 5-week winter breaks, but apart from the Jay Leno references I don't think it's too dated. So here you go:

“Boy,” we all think as we look back on yet another winter break, “was that ever relaxing!” We use the word “relaxing” here in place of “boring” because it makes us feel better about having just spent five relatively immobile weeks on our parents’ couch watching Sabrina, the Teenage Witch marathons and winning World War II again with our Xbox on the off chance that it turns out we actually lost on a technicality back in the 40s.

So let’s face it: winter break was probably not the most exciting time in your life. I would guess that, overall, it ranks somewhere alongside the first time you tried corn.

The most obvious way to fix this problem would be to spend the massive amounts of free time you have over winter break doing something productive, such as learning to play an instrument or studying Japanese. However, as long as YouTube still exists, that will never happen. Besides, at this point you’re entitled to some time off. I mean, come on, you just spent an entire semester being productive! Or, at least, you meant to, except you and Trent hit such a hot streak on the pong table you just never got around to reading about the Treaty of Adrianople (which I hear is quite fascinating).

Regardless, you aren’t going to be spending your break doing anything like that. Another option, then, is to think back to all the things you used to do to pass the time in high school. After all, if you were able to keep busy in your hometown for four years, you should be able to keep busy for five weeks pretty easily. Unfortunately, if your high school years were anything like mine, you spent them hanging out with people you are now only marginally certain haven’t died yet complaining about how there was nothing to do in your town. So that might not be the best option either.

So with your high school friends now virtually nonexistent, your high school parking lots now too cold to hang out in and your high school family still insistent on doing nothing but telling you the same surprisingly racist story about the time grandpa saw a deer in the backyard that was slightly larger than a normal sized deer, it does appear that your best friends for the duration of break are going to be the television and the Internet. What makes the most sense to do, then, is to complain to the television companies about how they need to come up with more interesting shows or, at the very least, stop giving so much airtime to Jay Leno. I would suggest you do the same thing to the Internet, but I’m not really sure who’s in charge over there. I would assume either Star Wars Kid, or one of his friends.

You know what? Forget all those plans. What you should really do to combat the boredom of winter break is just embrace it. The only other time in your life you’ll ever have to have such a small amount of responsibilities happened when you were a baby, and at that point you were far too busy urinating with wild abandon and not remembering things to enjoy it. So instead of spending all of winter break complaining about not having anything to do, why not enjoy not having anything to do before spending the next 50 years of your life trying to transform your cubicle into a youbicle?

But maybe write a letter to the television network executives anyway. In our nation’s fragile state, we really can’t afford another Jay Leno Show.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

1, 2, 3, 14

I have an almost limitless number of good memories involving music, my dad and me, but today I took this Sporcle quiz, and one in particular stood out.

It was in the Fall of 2004, and it was very early in the morning. I had spent the past year being driven to high school by my sister, but she had just started at Villanova, and since I was cursed with a late July birthday, I didn't have my license yet. So for the first half of junior year, my rides to school consisted solely of my dad and me. Most of the time these occurred in almost complete silence, not because we hated each other but because we typically had to leave the house around 6:45 AM. That's an early time for anyone to be awake, let alone a 16-year-old who had stayed up past midnight the night before studying for an AP History test (sort of).

But one morning, things went a little differently. Thanks to willpower, effective time management, and an episode of Family Guy airing that I had already seen, I managed to go to bed at a reasonable hour the night before, so I was able to wake up and get ready pretty quickly. By the time it was 6:40, I was already completely ready to go. Rather than turning my world upside down by showing up to school any earlier than I absolutely had to, I plunked down on our family room's couch and turned the TV to the sorely missed Vh1 MegaHits (I mean that "sorely missed" part, by the way. My family only had access to it for about a year, but in that time it helped me find out about Secret Machines, The Killers, and a pre-hey-let's-just-start-canceling-all-of-our-tours Kings of Leon. Everyone who wants Vh1 MegaHits to come back and Vh1 to start airing I Love The 80s all the time again, please raise your hand. Thank you.). At the time, U2 was about to release How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, an album I'm not particularly crazy about now but was very excited for at the time, especially because of the catchy single "Vertigo." And that's the video that started playing right when I tuned in.

My dad walked into the room shortly after. I expected him to tell me to turn off the TV and get in the car, as he was pretty consistent in terms of getting me to high school earlier than I wanted to be there. Instead, he sat down to watch the video with me. Neither of us said anything while it was on, but when it was over, he looked at me with a satisfied grin and asked, "Ready to go?"

I responded with a grin of my own and a "Yeah" that was actually earnest. Because today I really was ready. Today I had gotten to start things off by listening to a song that I liked and that it turned out my dad liked, too. And this wasn't an old classic that had already been confirmed as "great" by thousands of faceless rock critics. No, this was hip, new music from a band that had reached its peak when I was a little too young and he was a little too old, but that didn't matter because we could still enjoy listening to them together now. For three minutes, we both got to enjoy listening to a rock song that made each of us feel a little cooler than we actually were. I think we both knew this, but I don't think we cared.

So yeah, I'm ready for school. It'll probably be a good day.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Summation Of Everything I've Been Worrying About Since, Say, 19

(Only instead of "33," pretend he said "23.")

"I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day after day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I'm starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life's sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it's my own choices that'll lock me in, it seems unavoidable--if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them."
-David Foster Wallace, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again"

Beautifully written and expressed, but, admittedly, kind of a downer. So here's this:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Wilco

I was trying to make a "My Favorites" playlist (sidenote: it still feels a little weird to say "making a playlist" instead of "burning a CD." Hopefully I'll eventually come around.) of Wilco songs from all the albums I have by them (Wilco [the album], Sky Blue Sky, A Ghost Is Born, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and Summerteeth), but I couldn't do it. Not because I got distracted (although I did get distracted multiple times, just never to the point of giving up) (sorry for all the parenthetical asides) but because...well, I had too many favorites. Sure, there are a few that stand out, but overall it would be more efficient to just type "Wilco" into iTunes and play every song I have by them.

This isn't exclusive to Wilco. It would be tough for me to do with, say, TV On The Radio as well. Also with Ace of Base, but that's because I only have one song by them. I do think it's particularly funny that my Wilco fandom has proven so all-encompassing, though, because they're also the only band I've ever actively boycotted.

It was based on a Jeff Tweedy quote in a Rolling Stone article that I can no longer find but that I think came out sometime in high school. He was talking about older bands that he still either liked or didn't like, and he said that The Who's records hadn't held up very well. At the time, liking The Who was a bigger part of my identity than it had any right to be, so the fact that Jeff Tweedy had the nerve to say this was a personal affront to me. I vowed to never listen to Wilco right after reading that line. It actually lasted for about two years, following which I mentioned it to a friend during one of our countless conversations about music. He promptly told me I was an idiot and sent me Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Honestly, I was still reluctant to give it a try--how could a band who didn't like The Who be worth listening to?--but this particular friend knew a lot about music, so I figured I should give it a shot. And now I like literally every song of theirs I have. So, y'know, keep an open mind about things.

Having said that, if you told me I had to pick a favorite, I would tell you to start reading things more carefully because I said earlier that doing so was basically impossible. So here are two:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dear Ke$ha,

I'm not sure where you've been lately, but I have a simple request: please put this to music, record it, and release it as your newest single. I think it would be a huge success. We can talk about the money later. Also, you can change the bridge to make it about a boy if you want to.

"Fill It Up"

7 PM on a Friday night
We gotta start the pregame cuz the timing is right
I'm ripping shots with my girls
Drinking beers with my boys
Had too much, time to hurl
On my little bro's toys
But it's fine, boot and rally as we head out the door
To forget about our problems on a sweaty dance floor

Cuz tonight is the night
That we're goin' all out
Gotta grind, gotta drink
Gotta shout, shout, shout!
Only two days off, so ya gotta go hard
Hopefully when we're out at a bar that doesn't card
So it's go, go, go 'til the sun comes up
'Til then fill, fill, fill, just keep fillin' up my cup

Now we're rockin' at the club and we're havin' a blast
Cuz my crew lives every night like it might be their last
Grabbed some bottles of Patron
Washed 'em down with some Skyy
Now I think it's time to roam and get a little bit high
And if the pot leads to coke there's still no need to cower
We'll just tell the 5-0 we found some top-notch flour


Bars and clubs are closing up, but we're still not done
Cuz I just found a girl and she looks like a lotta fun
Tonight she's comin' home with me to keep the party goin' strong
Looks like we're staying in the bedroom all day long



Monday, October 10, 2011

A Study

Approximate Number of Times I Drink From A Nalgene Water Bottle Per Day: 20

Approximate Number of Times At Least Some of the Water Falls on my Shirt: 18

I feel like this is one of those things I should be too embarrassed to blog about. So is the fact that I just found out "blog" is short for "web log" a few weeks ago.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Love The Subway

After I've earned enough money to do anything I want, I'm going to try and make the MTA let me do PR for them for free. If anyone calls to complain about the subway, I will tell them to try finding another city with a more convenient and more thorough mass transit system. If they can do so, I will listen to their complaints. If they can't, I will tell them to stop whining and hang up on them. I don't think I will last very long at this job.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Words Of Wisdom From Someone Who's Better At Writing Than I Am

"The key to mostly anything is pretending your first time isn't."
-Jonathan Lethem, The Fortress Of Solitude

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


My first major crisis in masculinity came in second grade, when the other boys in my class decided they wanted to spend recess digging holes in the sand. The choice made plenty of sense: you’re pretty curious at age seven; you can’t see what’s below the ground; and the best way to remedy that is by digging until you can. The fact that the answer invariably seemed to wind up being “more sand” didn’t discourage them in the slightest. There was always a chance that someone had snuck onto the playground last night to bury some gold plated Power Rangers for safekeeping, and if someone besides us discovered them, we would never forgive ourselves. So every day when the recess bell rang, we would scamper over to the sandbox to begin the excavation anew.

Most of us would, anyway. I was great at the scampering part, but I was never very good at the excavating. I didn’t want to get my hands dirty.

I couldn’t explain it. I still can’t, really. Seven-year-old boys are not supposed to care about getting dirty, and for the most part, I didn’t. As far as I was concerned, owning colored articles of clothing was a completely useless endeavor, as they were all destined to become completely brown within three weeks of being purchased. But something about the idea of making my hands dirty and then having to suffer through the rest of the school day just leaving them like that—or, even worse, being told to go wash them, like I was some type of animal—never sat well with me. So while my classmates started getting dirty in earnest, I stood gamely by, doing my best to embrace the role of the benevolent supervisor. “Good job!” I would say, for instance. Or, “Nice job!” Or…actually, those were usually the only expressions I could come up with. My vocabulary had not developed very much yet.

The other guys didn’t mind. Sure, they thought it was a little weird that I never took part in any of the actual digging, but this was more than offset by the fact that I was smart, which meant that I got lots of Starbursts as rewards for doing well on my assignments, which meant that I had lots of opportunities to subtly grab additional Starbursts for my friends who hadn’t done as well, which meant that I was always going to be at least superficially well-liked, which is pretty hard to differentiate from being genuinely well-liked in second grade (Mrs. Fritz, if you’re reading this, I’m really sorry for stealing all those Starburst, and I promise you it didn’t lead me down a path of convenience store robberies or anything like that. I’m more than willing to replace them, but I’m a grad student now, so it might be a few years before I can afford to).

The only person who my lack of participation really bothered was me. Standing around every recess watching all my peers have gratuitous amounts of fun digging while I only had moderate amounts of fun watching them was nearly unbearable. I wanted desperately to join in the fun, and my classmates would have been more than happy to let me, but my aversion to getting my hands dirty was just too strong. Eventually, I decided that this was just one of those petty things that made me different from other people, and this was something I would probably have to deal with a lot throughout my life, so I might as well start trying to do so in a healthy fashion now, except none of that actually happened and instead I went to my mom and complained.

“All the boys in my class want to dig at recess, and I want to play with them, but I don’t want to dig,” I said.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because I don’t want to get my hands dirty.”

“So use a shovel. You know we have shovels, right?”

My face lit up. We did have shovels! I used them all the time! To dig! And when I dug with them, my hands didn’t get dirty! It was a perfect solution, and my glorious, wise, wonderful mother had come up with it in less time than it took me to put a shirt on. This inspired feelings of loyalty and devotion in me that lasted all the way until that evening when she had the nerve to cook and serve dinner. Devotees of this blog (I don’t think you exist, but if I’m wrong and you’re reading this now, hello! Also, thank you!) will recall that I was not a very big fan of dinner.

I woke up the next morning feeling better about going to school than I had in weeks. Finally, finally, I would be able to participate fully in recess again. Instead of witnessing other people find out what was underneath the sand, I would get to actively participate in the discovery! And, hey, maybe my shovel would revolutionize the way we dug! Maybe tomorrow, all the other kids would come in with shovels, too, and then on the next episode of Power Rangers they would all be digging with shovels, and it would all be because of me, and…wait, what are they doing? Why is Chris grabbing that brown, spherical thing?

“Hey, guys?” I asked as we lined up for recess. “What’s that? Aren’t we digging today?”
“Nope,” said Chris, smiling. “We’re gonna play football! Come on, it’ll be fun!”
Football, I wondered. Does that make your hands get dirty?
“Yes,” the answer turned out to be. “Unless you don’t play it well.”

So I had nothing to worry about.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rick Perry

I wrote this a little over a month ago, back when Rick Perry was still all new and exciting and Keri Hilson was...actually, Keri Hilson was still just about as sort of famous as she is now. It's to the tune of the timeless pop classic "Pretty Girl Rock." Enjoy.

Rock, rock, rock
The Republican rock, rock, rock
The Republican rock, rock, rock
Now what’s your name?

My name’s Rick Perry, I’m so very
Texas tough, born and raised on the prairie
Gays wanna marry, that is pretty scary
Next thing you know, it’ll be man on canary
Governed like a fighter, proven as a writer
Give me a chance to make our country’s future brighter
I can beat Obama, heck I killed at the state fair
I sure didn’t break the law with my Christian day of prayer

My name’s Rick Perry, Dems be wary
Just drink beer, you won’t catch me with a sherry
Chest nice and hairy, strong bones from dairy
Firm jaw line, trust me that’ll never vary
We need revolution, I’ve got the solution
Hard work, grit, and a lot of executions
Ready for the White House, please erase all of those doubts
And if you don’t believe me, go and ask the Boy Scouts

I’m in this race, I’m gonna win
Time to save this country from sin
Don’t mock me, I’m electable
My hair just screams “respectable”
Tax cuts, go nuts, that is my creed
And if I lose, we’ll just secede
It’s time to take our country back
We’ll be as stable as Iraq

I’m the Republican rock, rock, rock
The Republican rock, rock, rock
The Republican rock, rock
Not George Bush, just the Republican rock, rock, rock
The Republican rock, rock, rock
The Republican rock, rock, rock
The Republican rock
(Let’s slash some funds!)

Think that you can beat me? Hold up, pardner.
Think again.
Streak for winning these things just hit number ten
Critics say I’m reckless, wild, too gutsy
All of that because I threatened Ben Bernanke
People listen to me forthwith
(I’m reforming!)
Those complaints are nothing but myths
(Like global warming!)
I’ll be rational, I’ll cut it out with the “amens”
And if that’s not enough, hey, at least I’m not Bachmann

I’m in this race, I’m gonna win
Time to save this country from sin
Don’t mock me, I’m electable
My hair just screams “respectable”
Tax cuts, go nuts, that is my creed
And if I lose, we’ll just secede
It’s time to take our country back
We'll be as stable as Iraq

I’m the Republican rock, rock, rock
The Republican rock, rock, rock
The Republican rock, rock, rock
The Republican rock, rock
Pawlenty’s out, I’m the Republican rock, rock
I’m Reaganesque, the Republican rock, rock
Check out my pecs, the Republican rock, rock
Romney’s a fraud, I’m the Republican rock, rock
Who is Herman Cain?

I’m in this race, I’m gonna win
Time to save this country from sin
Don’t mock me, I’m electable
My hair just screams “respectable”
Tax cuts, go nuts, that is my creed
And if I lose, we’ll just secede
It’s time to take our country back
We’ll be as stable as Iraq

Why Journalism School Is Awesome

Today I got to start a telephone conversation by asking, "Hi, is this the man in black?" And yes, I was being completely earnest about it.

I Remember Way Back When

I don’t have much of a problem with nostalgia, a topic I recently found out smart people have been talking about. I don’t entirely trust it, but overall it seems like a pretty harmless and enjoyable way to kill some time. This is especially true if you’re with friends you haven’t seen in a while who feel like reliving something fun that happened the last time you all saw each other (usually college, at least at my age).

The only issue I have with it has very little to do with a fear that it's destroying artistic creativity. I just don't like that it hurts sometimes. And I mean that literally: sometimes, it physically hurts me to be nostalgic. Specifically those times when I'm not reminiscing about something with other people. Rather, I'm by myself and listening to a song that reminds me of a particularly happy moment from my past. And then my stomach starts tightening up, and it becomes impossible to think about anything else apart from all the good times I used to have while listening to this song that I don't have anymore. A small part of me knows that those times probably weren’t actually as great as I remember them being, but a much larger part of me doesn’t care. That’s when it hurts.

This doesn’t happen very often, mainly because things are largely ok right now, just as they’ve been largely ok for the past 23 years. I’m a middle-class white male who lives in America and listens to Louis C.K., so it’s near impossible to feel like my existence is or ever has been difficult in any meaningful sense of the word. But I’m human, and my life was simpler when I was eight like everybody else’s was, so I can’t say wistful nostalgia is something I’m immune from. And when I do succumb to it, music always plays a central role.

I think there’s a pretty simple reason for this: songs don’t change. I’ve changed a lot since 2003 (not so much in terms of maturity, but I’m taller); my friends have changed a lot since 2003; the world has changed a lot since 2003. But The Who’s greatest hits album that I bought in 2003 hasn’t changed at all. When I listen to “I Can’t Explain,” it sounds exactly the way it did when I heard it eight years ago because, well, it's still the same song I heard eight years ago. It almost seems unfair. I’ve had to grow up and start paying credit card bills and stop living in gigantic buildings with all my friends, but the song still gets to exist happily and permanently in its static little music bubble.

At the same time, though, the fact that songs don’t change is really awesome. And the awesomeness tends to outweigh any unfairness. Because it means that whenever I hear “I Can’t Explain,” it’s almost comically easy to pretend I’m 15 again, and it’s summer, and I’m lying on my bedroom floor rapturously reading the album’s liner notes in order to learn everything there is to know about The Who with a type of passion that you really only have access to from about ages 14 to 17 (For instance, they were originally called The High Numbers. Chances are high that, if you went to high school with me, I told you this many, many times).

So maybe the fact that nostalgia can be painful isn't actually anything worth complaining about. That "I Can't Explain" memory hurts like hell sometimes, but that's only because it's a happy one, so I really don’t want to lose it. And as long as “I Can’t Explain” doesn’t change, I don’t think I ever will.

Unless, that is, I become old and senile. I’ve heard senility can be pretty rough.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Conundrum

Today I saw a sign reading "Don't Litter" that had been thrown carelessly on the sidewalk.


Was that litter?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

When I was 14, I Sort of Wrote a Book

I say "sort of" because I don't think it was quite long enough to actually be considered a book and because it's basically just a less funny version of Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States. Anyway, I just reread it for the first time since 2003 because why not, and I gotta say: not very good. Most of the time I'm either:

a) talking about The Simpsons
b) saying that I don't know very much about a subject/am not going to talk about a subject because it's boring and trying to turn that into the joke
c) awkwardly and blatantly hating on George W. Bush
d) making references to my friends/family/Newtown that no one outside of my friends/family/town would understand
e) pointing out that a lot of words throughout American history kind of sound like words that have to do with sex

Still, I remember having a lot of fun while writing it, and there were a few jokes that made me laugh when I read it the second time around. They are reproduced here for your enjoyment in their original Bookman Old Style font:

The Vikings pretty much lorded over Europe until one day, a young man named King Arthur (played by Graham Chapman) rose up from the depths of defeat, got together the toughest warriors he could find, and went on a quest seeking the Holy Grail, only to be stopped by some American cops at the very end in what has been described by many as “the worst part of the movie.”

This year begot the hit song “In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-Two, Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue”, which narrowly beat “Without Me” and “Dirrty” for the number one spot on the billboard charts. This song “wowed” everybody except for Columbus himself, who had always viewed the ocean as more of a turquoise color. As June rolled around, people realized that Columbus wasn’t taking the hint, and if they didn’t act fast, soon it would be 1493, and they would have to change the song.

(Concerning Paul Revere's ride): This woke up a lot of already tense colonists and British, so they decided to just say the hell with negotiating and go have the Battle of Lexington. However, it was soon realized that the author did not actually know where Lexington was, so they just decided to skip over that and go right to the Battle of Concord, which is probably in New Hampshire. (I didn't think this one was that funny but wanted to include it because I found it oddly prescient of Michelle Bachmann)

When you were younger, I’m sure you were told that the only thing that caused the Civil War was the issue of slavery (and you probably believed it too, you cretin). However, as any historian will tell you, there were actually several issues involved that went much deeper than the simple matter of slavery, and the roots of the Civil War went back much further in United States history. This is why we would not recommend asking a historian what caused the Civil War. Slavery is good enough for us.

Anyway, the next president to step into office was Ulysses S. Grant, who spent most of his terms trying to stop people from making fun of his name, and the next president, Rutherford B. Hayes, did virtually the same thing.

However, the nation’s joy was soon to end, for in 1901, their beloved president, William McKinley, was assassinated. This caused Americans to go into a state of mourning for days, due to the fact that no one had bothered to tell them he was president.

The Treaty of Versailles (pronounced “if you want to learn how to pronounce this take Modern European History”) basically accomplished all of Wilson’s 14 points, except for the first 14.

(Concerning the Teapot Dome Scandal): The point is, right as the scandal was becoming known to the public, Harding died, thus using up all of the presidential luck that had been accumulating over the years and permanently screwing over Richard Nixon.

(Concerning writers in the 20s): Among the more famous of them was the poet e. e. cummings, who grew up so poor that he couldn’t afford to capitalize his first name.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Free Advice

If you are walking down a crowded street in Manhattan, it is not safe to assume that everyone around you is a huge "Arrested Development" fan and will either laugh or smile knowingly if you randomly sing "You're a crook, Captain Hook! Judge, won't you throw the book at the pirate?" aloud. You are much more likely to be met with awkward stares.