Monday, January 30, 2012

What A Difference Four Years Makes

In 2008, the presidential election was historic because our country finally had a chance to elect its first black or female president. In 2012, the presidential election is historic because no Republican has ever won his party's nomination without winning the South Carolina primary, and that might happen this year.

I think 2008 was more fun.

Why I Hate Times Square

I did not see this movie.

This was both the second year I spent New Year’s Eve in New York City and the second year I made sure to stay as far away from Times Square as possible. Only this time, it wasn’t enough to just stay away from Times Square. I also felt the need to have multiple conversations with my friends about why I wanted to stay away from Times Square and how I couldn’t imagine why anyone in their right mind would ever voluntarily go spend eight hours in such a crowded, cold, bathroom-less place.

In short, I don’t like Times Square very much, and the occurrence of yet another New Year’s Eve gave me an opportunity to think about why.

It’s not the tourists. Yes, they make it exceedingly difficult to walk, and yes, I become incensed every time I see someone stop in the middle of a crowded sidewalk to take a picture of the M&M store, but Times Square is a tourist attraction. If I got angry with tourists for visiting Times Square, I would have to retroactively get angry with myself for visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Space Needle in Seattle, the Lincoln Memorial in DC, etc., etc. I hate mankind and myself for plenty of things already. I don’t think I can handle adding “visiting tourist attractions when you’re a tourist” to the list.

No, the reason I hate Times Square is the same reason I hate Paris Hilton (sorry if that reference is too dated): it’s famous, but it doesn’t deserve to be. In other words, I don’t begrudge tourists for visiting it; I just don’t understand why they visit it in the first place. I’ve been there plenty of times (rarely by choice, just so you know that this piece isn’t a giant exercise in hypocrisy), and the most complimentary thing I can think of to say about it is that it looks kind of cool at night when everything is lit up.

Apart from that, it’s always appeared to me as nothing more than a collection of larger and more neon versions of stores that exist pretty much everywhere else in the country. The logic of going to New York City and eating at an Olive Garden even though the food is going to taste exactly the same as it did in Davenport except hey look at how cool the sign is at this one completely escapes me and brings back memories of Michael Scott’s first trip here. If you’re in the mood for Italian food, why not go to, say, Little Italy? Or pretty much anywhere. As Jon Stewart once pointed out, New York is a pretty good place to get Italian food.

The same could be said about the McDonald’s, the T.G.I. Friday’s, and, yes, even the M&M store. I’ll admit that it offers more variety than your typical candy shop, but ultimately, a bag of personalized mauve M&Ms is going to taste about the same as a bag you buy from CVS.

CVS, by the way, currently operates over 7,000 stores across the United States.

I can’t imagine this will actually change anyone’s mind about Times Square, given that it’s been famous for over 100 years and I haven’t gotten recognized on the street since I switched to contacts in 2005 and stopped getting mistaken for Harry Potter. But on the off chance that anyone reads this who’s thinking about visiting New York City, please trust me: there are several better tourist attractions to go to than Times Square.

Unless Olive Garden is doing its Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion. That deal is too good to pass up. The trick is to order a bowl after you aren't hungry anymore, have one bite, and then take it home. Boom: second dinner.

Monday, January 23, 2012

On The Bro'd

(This is a profile I wrote of funny person Mike Lacher for my Cultural Affairs class at Columbia back in December. You can check out the tumblr account/book that it focuses on here and read the profile directly below these parenthetical remarks.)

In 1957, The New York Times boldly proclaimed that the publication of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road was “a historic occasion.” The nation’s paper of record praised his tale of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty—the alter egos for Kerouac and Neal Cassady, respectfully—traveling back and forth across the American landscape as “the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as ‘beat,’ and whose principal avatar he is.” The prophet of the twentysomethings had spoken, and it turned out that what he had to say was intelligent, poetic, and inspiring.

Blogger turned author Mike Lacher sees it a bit differently.

“A lot of the stuff they do in that book is just bro stuff,” he said, referring to the characters’ frequent bouts of drinking, partying, and hooking up. “It just happened to be that they wrote really well and were crazy. So then they were able to be beats instead of bros.”

Although a precise definition of bros is difficult to pin down (Urban Dictionary currently has 220 options), most people can agree on the following: they emerged on America’s cultural scene sometime in the past decade; they are extremely and vocally fond of indulging in alcohol, revelry and sex; they tend to be males in their late teens or twenties; and they enjoy the music of Dave Matthews, the writings of Tucker Max, and the humor of Dane Cook.

Late in 2010, Lacher decided to combine the latent bro tendencies in Kerouac’s seminal work with the blatant bro ethos of today. The end result was On The Bro’d, a parody of On The Road written in bro-speak that started as a tumblr account and will be published as a book this coming spring. Dean is now a Beta Phi Omega brother from Arizona State, and although the only ones for Sal in the 1950s were those who “burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars,” he is now more intrigued by those who “chug, chug, chug like fucking awesome players exploding like spiders across an Ed Hardy shirt.”

“That’s the part that makes it most appealing,” said Lacher. “Hearing that contrast between what’s sort of accepted as higher literary culture interacting with the lowest form of slang.”
 * * *
Lacher himself does not give off the appearance of a bro. He is tall, fair-skinned, thin, and unassuming, making him a much better fit for an NBC sitcom than an MTV reality show. Nevertheless, he has been informally learning about the social group since his college years at the University of Michigan.

“I went to a Big Ten school,” he said. “As soon as you’re at that first fraternity party, it’s like, ‘Oh, this is really just a type of human being.’”

Lacher moved to Chicago after graduating in 2007, where he planned to work at his friend’s restaurant while performing improv in his spare time. The restaurant wouldn’t hire him, though, and he was forced to fall back on a skill he had learned earlier as a favor for his mom: flash development.

“The previous year, my mom needed me to build her a flash website, so I learned flash for that purpose,” he said. “Pretty much every job that I’ve had has depended upon that skill.”

Shortly after his failed attempt at gaining employment in the food service industry, Lacher got hired at NogginLabs, a company that builds custom e-learning software. He still made time to perform improv on the side and continued doing so until moving to New York with his girlfriend “for fun” in October 2010. Around the end of 2009, however, he started growing less interested in the comedic potential of improv and more interested in the comedic potential of the Internet.

“It feels like unconquered territory,” he said. “Everyone has already done plenty of good improv shows…but people are still figuring out what you can do that’s funny on the Internet.”

Lacher took it upon himself to try figuring this out and has so far come up with a variety of answers. An application that could transform any website into a Geocities page straight out of the mid-90s was funny enough to receive over 600,000 visits in its first week and merit a mention in The New York Times Magazine. A tumblr account featuring images of Michael Bublé getting stalked by a velociraptor made it into GQ. And the equally self-explanatory Muppets with People Eyes got written up by Time.

The one thing most of these projects had in common, according to Lacher, was that their time in the spotlight didn’t last long.

“People have a short attention span on the Internet,” he said, “and also, those single serving websites…I think they’re just not that funny after a while.”

These were Lacher’s initial expectations for On The Bro’d. Born out of his simple observation that “road” and “bro’d” rhyme, he thought it would entertain both him and the Internet for a brief period of time before they each moved onto something else.

Thus, approximately one year ago, Lacher launched On The Bro’d as another one of what he calls his “one-joke tumblr things.” By the initial post—a parody of, appropriately enough, On The Road’s first paragraph—he had already firmly established the tone: Sal’s “serious illness” was replaced with “a wicked fucking hangover,” while Dean was shrouded in Axe Body Spray instead of mystery.

This strong, humorous voice was enough to convince Hannah Gordon, a literary agent with Foundry, that Lacher’s most recent project had more potential than a series of photoshopped Muppets. She first heard about the fledgling tumblr account from one of her colleagues, and unlike Lacher himself, she did not see it as just a one-joke tumblr thing. She saw it as a book.

“You kind of have to go with your gut on these things,” Gordon said. “If you’re really enjoying it, and you want to keep reading it, you can’t think, ‘Oh, I’m the only person out there who would like this.’ You have to imagine there are pockets of people who think like you do.”

The Internet has recently become a great resource for literary agents trying to find new clients, said Gordon, especially in the wake of fruitful blog-to-book deals such as Stuff White People Like and Awkward Family Photos. However, both Gordon and Brendan O’Neill, Lacher’s editor, acknowledged that these past success stories do not automatically mean a blog that turns into a book will be a hit.

O’Neill, who works at Adams Media and has previously edited book versions of popular blogs, said the biggest factor regarding the ability of these projects to sell effectively boils down to whether or not the author has the ability “to write and write funny.

“I think Mike’s able to do that,” he added.
 * * *
Although Lacher had not considered turning On The Bro’d into a book before Gordon contacted him, he was very receptive to the idea. The two put a proposal together, and Adams Media—a publishing company that has previously printed literary parodies such as The Stoned Family Robinson and Bad Austen: The Worst Stories Jane Never Wrote—decided to buy it during the winter of 2011. Now, all Lacher had to do was write the thing, a process he said went “pretty well.

“It had its ups and downs,” he continued. “Getting to try to use that Kerouac-y poetic cadence but with bro stuff is fun. But there’s other parts where it can reach a certain tedious level where every day it’s like, ‘How do I rephrase this?’”

Lacher frequently referred to numbers when describing how he wrote On The Bro’d. There were 240 pages in total; he tried to write at least two pages per day; and it took him approximately 40 minutes per page. This mechanistic update of Kerouac’s three-week typing binge enabled him to finish his first draft in August, which he is currently waiting to get back from Adams Media.

“I’d usually try to wake up at six and get some done, and then try to get whatever else done at night,” Lacher said. “That was the part where it just got exhausting because it’s like you wake up and work, then go and actually work, like in an office, and then come home and work more. I know there definitely were times where people from work would be like, ‘Hey, we’re going out!’ and then I’d be like, ‘I can’t. And I also can’t begin to explain to you why.’”

Lacher currently works at Google doing rich media banner advertising, having left NogginLabs this past January. Although he is happy in his current position, he does wonder if having a good job at one of the world’s most highly valued companies has prevented him from developing the same drive as other writers.

“I don’t feel like I’m a struggling bohemian artist,” he said, “which I guess on one hand would maybe make me claw and scratch my way to the top harder. But on the other hand, it doesn’t make me feel like I’ve got to achieve ‘x’ goal right now.”
 * * *
The fact that a version of On The Road retold for bros is now viewed as a viable commercial product is a clear indication that bros have become an established part of American life, as is the popularity of TV shows like Entourage and How I Met Your Mother, movies like The Hangover and Old School, and websites like BroBible and My Life Is Bro. At this point, it seems, the bro has been around for long enough to fully infiltrate the mainstream. Recently, however, Lacher believes a relatively new element has found its way into bro culture: pride.

“I think there’s definitely more of a self-identification now that’s made it cooler to be that sort of dude who loves to party and loves to be concerned with his appearance as well,” he said.

Streeter Seidell, Editor-in-Chief of CollegeHumor—a company he describes as “implicit in the brosplosion”—agrees.

“I feel like bros are aware that they’re obnoxious and dumb and annoying, but they kind of take pride in that a little bit,” he said. “They’ve become self-aware.”

On The Bro’d seems far too tongue-in-cheek to contribute to the nascent bro pride movement, a reflection of Lacher’s overall attitude toward bros as harmless sources of amusement. However, that did not stop BroBible—the Internet’s self-proclaimed “ultimate destination for bros”—from referring to it as “a fantastic and hilarious read.” It was a move that startled Lacher and suggested that the emergence of bro pride does not necessarily mean bros have started taking themselves seriously. Otherwise, it seems difficult to understand how they could be complimentary of a book about them filled with passages like, “But the way I picked cotton was sorta retarded. I took like forever trying to pick the white shit off the other shit; everybody else did it way faster.”

Before getting praise from BroBible, Lacher said, he had always assumed that bro was an exclusively disparaging expression. Now, he recognizes the word as “something that’s taken both as a positive and a negative. People who are labeled bros will happily accept it, and other people will use it as a derogatory term.”

Seidell thinks this incongruous combination of bros being simultaneously proud and mocking of their identity is a sign that the archetype may not be prominent for much longer. As evidence, he points to one of the hallmarks of bro culture: an episode of Jersey Shore.

“There’s a point where Pauly D and Vinny are doing characters of guidos,” he said, “and they’re heightened, but they recognize that they’re also guidos. But they’re like, ‘We’re the good kind.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, man. It’s become meta now, and people kind of hate meta after a little while.’”

Still, Seidell said, he may just feel this way about bros because of the large role they’ve played in his job for years.

“I’ve been so immersed in it for so long that I’m…sick of it,” he said. “Bro humor could just be hitting in other places.

“So who knows, man? It could stick around forever,” he continued. “You want to do shots?”

Sunday, January 22, 2012

American Idiot

There have really only been a few albums that I can honestly say I was obsessed with. I’ve liked and continue to like plenty, but when it comes to ones that I legitimately did not stop listening to for months, the number drops off significantly.

The one album that stands out among these select few is Green Day’s American Idiot. I was actually worried that I wouldn’t be able to listen to it when it first came out, as it had the dreaded “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” sticker on its cover, something that my parents took very seriously at the time. At least, I thought they took it very seriously until I came home from school one day in October and saw American Idiot waiting for me on the couch because my dad didn’t notice the sticker when he went out to buy it (I was comically horrible at getting away with anything in high school, so I pointed this out to him almost immediately. He shrugged and grinned sheepishly. It was a nice moment for the two of us). Then it went into my CD player, and it remained there until sometime around Christmas, by which point I had memorized the lyrics to every track.

I still enjoy listening to the album, but I don’t do so nearly as often—or with nearly as much fervor—as I did back in the halcyon days of 2004. This is partly because I just don’t get as excited about things at age 23 as I did at age 16, a phenomenon I am going to blame blindly on biology. But I think it’s more so because it’s not 2004 anymore, and American Idiot was very much an album meant for 2004. More specifically, it was an album meant for burgeoning teenage rock fans who knew they were upset about the Iraq war and wanted the Bush administration out of office in 2004 but weren’t very good at articulating why.

Part of me remains slightly upset about having missed out on the 1960s, although this part did begin drastically shrinking once I went to college and needed to start doing actual research on the decade for history papers. This quickly revealed that, while it had certainly been an exciting and interesting decade, it had not been the nonstop parade of America’s Most Important Historic Events the way Forrest Gump had made it seem.

But this didn't matter when I was 16. When I was 16, the only thing that really mattered about the 60s was the music, and the music was incredible. And not just incredible but important. Great bands were writing great songs about war and social change back then, a topic that seemed a lot more worthwhile than the topics music was exploring in 2004. So I largely retreated into classic rock that year. Seeing if Sgt. Pepper’s was really as good as everyone said it was seemed like a better use of my time than paying attention to any bands that had gotten together after 1988.

And then American Idiot came out, and all of a sudden I realized that new rock music could be about important things, too. This was an album about a war, and the war that it was about hadn't ended 13 years before I was born. It was pretty messy and occasionally pretentious, but so were my reasons for not supporting the Iraq war in 2004, so this worked out pretty well for me. Besides, the mess and pretention didn’t matter nearly as much as did the mere fact that this was an antiwar album that came out in my lifetime. I didn’t have to pretend that I had been protesting alongside Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969 anymore because there was an actual war going on and actual protest music being written about it now. It finally felt both like there were important events going on around me and like there was music being written to reflect this. 23-year-old Eddie recognizes that this is a pretty reductive and egotistical way to look at current events. 16-year-old Eddie didn't give a shit.

Oh, and the songs were good, too (and pretty innovative, at least for Green Day. Who would've thought the guys behind "Longview" could pull off two nine-minute tracks in one album?). So I decided to listen to them for three months straight.

And then Bush was reelected, and I went up to Minnesota for the holidays and got really into Oasis, and Green Day released the still good but relatively inconsequential 21st Century Breakdown, and the war in Iraq went on for another seven years. So realistically speaking, American Idiot’s lasting impact—on me, on the band, on the country—wasn’t especially significant. But it’s hard for anything not to seem especially significant when you’re 16, especially a political rock album that happens to come out right when you’re starting to get very interested in politics and rock music. Being too young to find it condescending when celebrities tell you what to think about anything except themselves didn’t hurt either.

So thanks, Green Day. Having said that, I have to admit that I’m not particularly interested in how you feel about Afghanistan.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What Is Dubstep?

I know I'm not old. Sometimes I like to say I'm old, but all I really mean by this is that kids today aren't watching the same shows I watched on Nickelodeon when I was eight, and this makes me insecure. When you get right down to it, I'm still only 23. I'm not a kid anymore (although I do still have an affinity for Hey Arnold!), but I haven't started losing my hair, I'm still convinced that "joint pain" is just a rumor propagated by AARP lobbyists, and I don't really have a problem with Pop-Tarts for dinner as long as you're not making a habit out of it (once a week, max) (maybe twice, but we'd have to be talking about some pretty outstanding Pop-Tarts in a scenario like this).

But this whole dubstep thing is making the "old" issue a little more complicated.

I want to make one thing clear right away: the problem is not that I hate dubstep. Hating a genre of music that's popular hasn't disqualified you from being young and hip since at least 1978. Personally, I completely gave up on trying to like all types of popular music sometime last year, as I was working with middle school students who repeatedly made sure that I knew this was never going to happen. And it turned out to be easier and more enjoyable to retreat into my narrow little slice of pop culture where everyone is really excited for the new White Rabbits album and pretty unaware of what Katy Perry is up to anyway.

So, to reiterate: the problem is not that I hate dubstep. The problem is that I don't know what dubstep is.

I mean this very, very literally. I know that it's a type of music, and that's it. I've read the Wikipedia entry (kind of) (I mean, I read the intro to the Wikipedia entry. I would've read the whole article, but it was long, and I'm a busy man), and I've listened to a few YouTube videos named something along the lines of "Song [Dubstep Mix]," and I still can't really figure out what dubstep is. The videos I've found either just look and sound like bass heavy remixes of already popular songs or postmodern Target commercials.

Honestly, though, I can't say the Wikipedia entry was entirely unhelpful, as it did offer this relatively concise and straightforward definition of the genre: "tightly coiled productions with overwhelming bass lines and reverberant drum patterns, clipped samples, and occasional vocals." I don't really understand what this means, but I can see how it might be helpful should dubstep ever come up in conversation:

Hip Young Person: Say, have you heard the latest dubstep song?

Me: You mean the one featuring tightly coiled productions with overwhelming bass lines and reverberant drum patterns, clipped samples, and occasional vocals?

Hip Young Person: Umm...yes. That one. Anyway, I'm going to walk away now. But you should stay here.

Which would actually be great for me because I wouldn't have anything to say after that first sentence, thus proving that we've really only treated the symptom here.

It's one thing to hate something popular. There's honor and occasional foresight in that, as anyone who didn't buy a Furby can attest to. But to be almost entirely ignorant of something popular? There's not too much honor in that. Just a lot of senior discounts.

I think I'm going to grow my hair out.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Few Tips

1. If you ever wake up one day and decide to go running at the gym instead of outside because it's too cold out but then get extremely cold on your walk to the gym and decide you'll run there to keep warm, the best way to deal with the irony is to not think about it.

2. If, while running, you put your iPod on shuffle and "Total Eclipse of the Heart" comes on, causing you to realize that, at some point over the past 23 years, you have learned all the lyrics to "Total Eclipse of the Heart," reassuring yourself that you did so ironically will not prove especially comforting.

3. If a song by this hip new indie band you've been checking out lately comes on afterwards, it will help a little bit. But not too much. Especially because, deep down, you know that running to "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was more fun.

4. And, hey, at least the version of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" you have on your iPod is the one where Meat Loaf sings backup. He's legit. Kind of. I mean, he was in Fight Club.

5. If you're trying to melt cheese that has been refrigerated, bring it to room temperature first.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why Headphones Are Important

If headphones didn't exist, and you happened to be at the gym with a lot of people who are much stronger than you are, and you wanted to listen to the soundtrack from, say, The Book of Mormon or Avenue Q or Spamalot while you worked out, it would be very difficult to do so without publicly compromising the aura of masculinity you have worked so hard to maintain over the years.

I'm not saying this has happened to me before, but I am saying that, yeah, this happened to me when I went to the gym today. Thank you, Nathaniel Baldwin

But not for supporting polygamy. Just for headphones.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Usually Believe In Evolution

There's an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence in support of the theory; you get to use the phrase "vestigial structures" when you discuss it, which is a lot of fun to say; and Futurama did a pretty funny episode about it.

But then it takes me four tries to successfully open a pint of Ben and Jerry's. And when that happens...well, I can't help but have my doubts.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mediocre Criticism of a Movie Most People Don't Care About

(I'm not really sure why you're still reading after a title like that, but, hey, onward.)

I really, really wanted to like Take Me Home Tonight. As soon as I saw the preview for the first time about a year ago, it seemed exactly like the type of movie I usually enjoy a lot more than I have any right to. It stars Topher Grace, who I have an almost unlimited amount of goodwill towards based on loving That 70’s Show as a kid and not watching it after it got awful, and features cameos from Michael Ian Black and Demetri Martin, two of my favorite comedians. It’s about kids who just graduated from college and don’t know exactly what to do with their lives, a topic that resonates pretty strongly with me for some reason. The action takes place almost entirely during one night and centers on young people trying to have fun, much like two of my favorite movies, Superbad and Dazed and Confused. And it takes place in the 80s, making it a very effective way for me to indulge my weakness for 80s pop hits.

So despite the tepid reviews and the fact that it was forgotten about seemingly moments after it was released to an already small amount of fanfare, I still wanted to see this movie pretty badly. Several months after it came out, I still wanted to see it pretty badly. A few days ago, I finally did.

And it was kind of disappointing. Not outright bad, but not great, and certainly not Superbad or Dazed and Confused (or American Graffiti, probably, but I haven’t seen that movie, so I can’t really compare the two). “Reasonably watchable,” as The New York Times review aptly described it. But I was hoping that at least for me—not just a member of the target audience, but a member who was eager enough for this movie to be good to ignore a lot of its flaws—it would prove more than “reasonably watchable.”

But it didn’t. Here are a few of the main reasons why:     

1. Topher Grace’s big speech: This was clearly meant to be the defining moment for his character/the film’s protagonist, Matt Franklin. It was supposed to be the climax of the film where he transformed from someone who was afraid to do anything into someone who was going to start making decisions in his life. And to symbolize that transition, we got a clichéd speech about why you shouldn’t pretend to be something you’re not that ends with, “Tonight I got one thing to say to all that bullshit. Fuck it.” And that’s it. It’s not entirely clear what the bullshit is or how we’re supposed to go about fucking it, but then Matt goes ahead and takes a risk and gets the girl and starts cutting down on carbs and etc. The speech could have worked as a semiserious drunken call to, say, continue partying, but it felt far too vague and artificial to actually represent a major change in the main character’s attitude and outlook on life.

2. Chris Pratt’s character is not such a bad guy: His character, Kyle Masterson, is supposed to be the dopey, overgrown frat boy who prevents Wendy Franklin—Matt’s twin sister and Kyle's girlfriend—from doing anything with her life by making her be his wife and nothing more. And he kind of is, but not in a “this guy is a huge asshole who absolutely deserves a comeuppance” kind of way. He’s genuinely excited to see Matt at the party. He doesn’t force Wendy to marry him; he just asks her, and she says yes. He gets upset when he finds out she applied to Cambridge for graduate school, but again, not in a villainous, I’m-trying-to-destroy-your-potential type of way but in a moderately reasonable I-don’t-want-my-girlfriend-who-I-just-proposed-to-and-bought-a-condo-with-to-move-to-England type of way. Granted, he’s a little happy when she doesn’t get in, which is undeniably a dick move. But is it enough of a dick move to warrant feeling gleeful when Wendy decides to turn down his marriage proposal a few hours after she had accepted it in front of hundreds of people they went to high school with? Maybe I’m having too hard of a time not viewing Chris Pratt as the eminently likeable Andy Dwyer on Parks and Rec, but I don’t think so. He’s kind of a jerk in Take Me Home Tonight, but not enough of one to serve as the de facto villain of the movie, which is how I felt the film was trying to portray him.

3. Matt’s dad seems proud of his son when he breaks laws and disappointed in him when he doesn’t: Bill Franklin starts out as a typical authority figure. The first time we see him, he’s sternly lecturing Matt at the dinner table about the need to find some direction in his life. Later, because he’s a cop and this is a movie, he and his partner happen to be the officers who run into Matt and his friend Barry Nathan after they’ve stolen and crashed a car. He asks Matt about the level of involvement he had in taking the car and actually seems disappointed when Matt says he left the dealership before Barry did the stealing. Later, after Matt has decided to take his first risk by “riding the ball,” (In the context of the film, this means literally getting rolled down a hill in a giant metal sphere, and it’s a big deal. Confusing, I know), Bill smiles when he finds Matt’s work ID in the yard that he landed in and destroyed. So the person who is giving Matt life advice is upset with him for not committing grand theft auto and proud of him for destroying the property of an innocent, law-abiding neighbor. It makes the earnest advice he gives him about the need to take a chance on something in life ring hollow.

4. “Are you going to Kyle Masterson’s party tonight?” This is a very, very small complaint, but when Tori Frederking—the hot popular girl who was Matt’s high school crush—asks him if he’s going to the party that’s the impetus for everything that happens in the movie, she uses the host’s full name. That’s not how hot popular girls refer to anyone they went to high school with. They only use first names because, since they’re popular and hot, they’re on a friendly, informal, first name basis with everyone. Using someone’s full name implies that they’re more important than you are. It’s one of the reasons we always refer to celebrities as, for instance, “Will Smith” instead of just “Will.”  So having a hot popular girl refer to a classmate by his full name sounds unrealistic and forced. This ruined very little about the movie but bothered me anyway.

Yes, there were more disappointing factors, but these are the ones that still stick out to me.

And now, because, damn it, I still like Topher Grace, and Demetri Martin was extremely funny in this movie as a wheelchair-bound, Goldman Sachs-employed asshole, and optimism is always more fun than pessimism, we’ll end on something about Take Me Home Tonight that I really liked and didn’t expect:

No one’s story wraps up too nicely at the end: Wendy doesn’t get into Cambridge. Barry gets fired from his job. Tori hates her job. These details all come out at some point during the movie, and although the characters appear upbeat and ready to keep trying at the conclusion, none of the aforementioned problems have been solved. Out of all the characters, Matt is the one who gets the strongest sense of closure, and even his plans don’t extend much further than traveling for a while. It’s a fun thing for a postgrad to do, but it doesn’t solve the problem of not knowing what to do with your life so much as it does postpone it. It would have been very easy for the filmmakers to have Wendy get into Cambridge and Barry get his job back and Tori quit her job and Matt find his perfect job, but none of these things happened because life doesn’t work that way. Problems don’t disappear because of one wild night, and you shouldn’t expect them to. Take Me Home Tonight seems to understand this, but, as the smiles on the characters at the end indicate, it also seems to understand that this doesn’t mean you have to go through life miserable.

It wasn’t Superbad; it wasn’t Dazed and Confused; it wasn’t even really that funny. But it had a good ending and a few good moments, so it watching it wasn’t a waste of time. And sometimes that’s all you get.

Monday, January 9, 2012

How To Have A Fun Saturday Night In New York City

Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
1. To ensure that you have the maximum amount of energy going into the night, get no more than five hours of hollow, inebriated sleep on Friday, eat an offensive fast food concoction for lunch, and pregame by watching the Republican debate alone. Then take a few swigs of Monster immediately before leaving your house.

2. Do not learn the name or location of the place where you are going. Rather, assume other people know this information. This will probably work out well.

3. Get on the downtown 1 train at 110th St around 11:30 PM. Once you reach 96th St, switch to the 2/3 express train in order to get downtown faster.

4. Actually, guys, it says the next express train isn't coming for 19 minutes. So maybe we should just stay on the 1 train? Guys?

5. Spend 19 minutes in the 96th St station pacing.

6. Take the 2 train to 14th St. When the conductor announces that this train will be making local stops between 34th St and 14th St, further invalidating your decision to wait for the 2 train instead of staying on the 1, pretend you don't hear him.

7. Transfer to the F train at 14th St. While waiting for the F train to arrive, make a hubristic comment about New York having the best public transportation system in the country that will probably not come back to bite you in the ass later in the night.

8. Board the F train. Intend on taking it to Delancey St until you hear the conductor announce something about the F train making stops on the C line after West 4th St that you still don't fully understand.

9. Get off at Canal St because why not.

10. Despite not really knowing where you are or where you're trying to go, stubbornly refuse to take a cab because you're a grad student, damn it, and such luxuries will have to wait until you're making more than negative five figures a year.

11. Bid a cheerful farewell to your friends who decide to take a cab. Smugly congratulate yourself and your remaining friends on your frugalness. This also will probably not come back to bite you in the ass later in the night.

12. Decide against walking to the club because doing so would take almost 20 minutes. Attempt to find the J train and take that to Delancey St instead.

13. No, that's the 1 train.

14. That's the ACE train.

15. That's the 1 train again.

16. Shit.

17. Wait, wait! Here it is! We found it! Nice work everyone! And it only took, like, 20 minutes! Things are finally looking up!

18. Take the J train one stop from Canal St to Chambers St, after which it will stop. Do not realize you took the train in the wrong direction until the next day when you are attempting to write a blog post about your night.

19. Get off at Chambers St. Establish that you are now farther away from the club than you were before getting on the J train.

20. Hold on, is it seriously after 1 AM right now? So we've been trying to get to this place for, like, an hour and a half?

21. You know it takes me an hour and a half to get from the city to my house, right? My house in Connecticut?

22. Call your friends who took a cab to see how the club is.

23. You're still waiting in line? Wait, there's a line to get into this place? And a $10 cover? Seriously?

24. Decide not to go.

25. Decide to go.

26. Try to catch a cab. Fail.

27. Decide not to go.

28. Take the 2 train back to 96th St. Experience a brief sense of relief that you at least managed to catch an express train home before realizing that it is making all local stops.

29. Order mozzarella sticks at the Seinfeld restaurant while discussing the Republican debate you were all watching earlier and attempting to convince yourself that none of the girls at that club would've talked to you anyway.

30. Go home. Watch an episode of Party Down before going to bed.

31. Realize any night that ended with you and some good friends eating together at 2 AM really couldn't have been that bad.

32. Apologize for the cheesy ending. Rectify it by acknowledging that it was cheesy in a snarky, self-aware fashion.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Double Down

Photo courtesy of good friend and Twitter legend Andrew Katz. 
I've been fascinated with the Double Down ever since I first read about it in The A.V. Club over two years ago. Something about the idea of a sandwich that contains two fried chicken patties in lieu of two slices of bread just seemed so purely, perversely American to me, to the point where trying one felt almost like a patriotic duty as opposed to an impulsive, lustful decision I might make while stoned.

So way back in 2009, I decided that, at some point, I needed to try this sandwich (if you could call it that). The problem was, other things kept getting in the way: school, work, schoolwork, the Arab Spring, dignity, etc. My desire to try the Double Down gradually started to wane, and eventually, it was pushed into the already crowded realm of Things I Like To Joke About Doing But Will Probably Never Actually Do (heroin, prostitutes, showering) (I'm kidding about one of these things. Try to guess which one!).

Until yesterday.

The process actually began on Friday night when--our passion abetted by a few drinks--my friend Lorenzo and I declared that tomorrow we would go to KFC for lunch, and we would each order and eat one Double Down. Granted, I had made similar promises before, but there was something about this one that seemed more honest and genuine. Again, this may just have been because of the alcohol, but it's possible bigger forces were also at play.

Sure enough, at 1:00 in the afternoon the next day, I found myself waiting in line at a KFC on the Upper West Side with Lorenzo, mere moments away from finally bringing this dream of mine to fruition. We briefly debated backing out and ordering something that didn't spit in the face of the Earl of Sandwich but decided that, no, we had come here to try the Double Down, and, by God, that was what we were going to do.

And it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

Having said that, this is mainly because my expectations were almost comically low, and I certainly don't think I'll ever order a Double Down again. But I had assumed that this sandwich would instantly give me a heart attack or, at the very least, Type 2 diabetes. What I got instead was a sandwich that looked disgusting and that sat heavily and unpleasantly in my stomach for several hours but ultimately tasted fine, minus a few bites that were a little heavy on the Colonel's Sauce (I don't know what this is, but it was light orange, which made me slightly uneasy).

Because at its core, the Double Down really isn't a very nauseating combination of ingredients. It's chicken, bacon, cheese, and sauce. The infamy and the sense of deep, existential shame you experience while ordering and eating it both stem almost entirely from the presentation: you are clearly eating a sandwich that has substituted two slices of bread for two fried chicken breasts, and it's difficult to get past that. Really, all KFC would have to do is slap some bread above and below each piece of chicken to essentially turn the Double Down into a chicken club sandwich (incidentally, it would also become more unhealthy, as the bread would add calories and carbs). But a chicken club sandwich isn't very exciting. Not exciting enough to make a supposedly intelligent 23-year-old spend years of his life wondering what one tastes like, anyway.

So I guess it's possible that this whole Double Down thing was just an elaborate marketing campaign, an attempt by KFC to pique the morbid curiosity of consumers that I completely bought into. In which case I say to the fine people at Yum! Brands: nice job, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with next. How about just shoving all of your popular menu items into a bowl?

Oh, wait...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Grocery Store Music

Yesterday, when I went into the grocery store to purchase a few seminal food products (jelly, Pop-Tarts, and granola bars), "Head Over Heels" by Tears for Fears was playing.

I immediately broke out in a huge smile and start singing along. This led to more than a few strange looks from the other shoppers, but I was enjoying myself too much to care.

I'm not sure where my life is headed or what I'll be doing five months from now, but I feel like as long as I can keep getting absurdly happy when a Tears for Fears song starts playing in a grocery store, things will be ok.