Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wipe your feet on me. I deserve it.

Back in February I wrote about an alt-weekly called Doormat that used to be published in Charleston, South Carolina. I had run across an issue from the fall of '94 while I was home for Christmas and going through a box of stuff at my parents' house. I was struck by comments in two different columns about technology circa 1994, specifically how the Internet was starting to become a household word. But when I went online to find out what became of Doormat, I found nothing.

The other day I received an e-mail from the writer of one of those columns, whose writing I'd called "mediocre." The column in question was mediocre—I assumed he was still in college when he wrote it—but could I have done any better in my early 20s? No.

I used to think some of the columns in the
Red and Black student paper at my alma mater, the University of Georgia, were pointless exercises in whining about how hard the library is to use when you've waited until the last second to start a research paper, but I know what it's like to be under the pressure of a deadline, and sometimes you come up empty. And even now, at 33, I don't always make my point clear when I write.

The Doormat writer contacted me because he wasn't sure what my point was in writing about his former labor of love. Was I saying I was glad it no longer existed or that it deserved its comeuppance in the digital age since it was wary of new technology? Not at all.

"Or, here in 2009, were you acknowledging that the ever-expanding horizon of modern communications is foreign and undesirable to you," he asked, "and in so doing, were you identifying with our 1994 desire to eschew innovation, in favor of the more comfortable status quo?" Yes and no.

My last paragraph in that February 6 entry was weak, no doubt about it:
But technology seems to have changed so rapidly since '94 that I'd imagine there's a ten-year-old somewhere in the world right now saying, "Now I can program the DVR with my phone? I just learned how to program the DVR period." Then again, probably not—I'm just old. The upside is that I'm thankful it's not November 1994 anymore.

I meant to go back and expand on that paragraph or just fix it in general, but I forgot, which is unfortunate—it's not smart to call someone's writing from their 20s mediocre and then churn out some unfinished mediocrity of my own in my 30s.

In November of '94 I was a freshman in college at the North Carolina School of the Arts. It was a terrible school year for several different reasons, and I ended up transferring to UGA the next fall. That's why I'm glad it's not November of '94 anymore. I should've just said that, but I was trying to avoid whining. Don't get me wrong—I'm great at it—but the first year of this blog is full of self-absorbed bitching and moaning, and I want to avoid that now whenever I can.

I worked for an alt-weekly for five and a half years here in Chicago before being laid off in January. Every newspaper in the world has been hurt badly by profit-draining websites like Craigslist and consumers who now expect news to be free on the Internet. They still read newspapers online, but they don't want to pay for the content in print, and if people don't pick up a paper, advertisers won't want to waste their time placing ads there. Back in 1994, of course, the Internet didn't pose any kind of threat to newspapers.

For the first eight-or-so years after college I didn't feel older, but technology mercilessly dated my memories. How'd we go from blank tapes to "burned" CDs in that amount of time? Technology seems to have advanced so much since the late '90s, when no one I knew owned a cell phone. Now some people have no idea what it feels like to have both hands free while walking down the street.

But maybe in the summer of '69 my parents were still getting used to the idea of commercial air travel right as Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Life just speeds up at a certain age even as it simultaneously slows down: we settle into careers, we begin long-term romantic relationships, we raise children. And if we blink, a year has gone by without much having changed, or so it seems.

New technology can make certain things in life more convenient—the remote control, the laptop computer, the cell phone—while making us lazier at the same time and more scattered in our thoughts, e.g., writing e-mail or typing out text messages while watching TV. So yes, I somewhat miss the status quo of 1994, when I was a pretty smart guy because I knew how to program a VCR and make a decent mix tape for a girl. But I also enjoy having an iPod and being able to access the Internet at a coffee shop and improve my writing through a blog that people can see and critique and make me think about the words and thoughts I'm casting out into the world.

After all, if it weren't for new technology, the guy from Doormat never would've found my mediocre blog entry.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Entertainment Tonight, substance tomorrow

Last summer I saw Entertainment Tonight for the first time in years. I'd been wondering for a while who their new Leo is.

See, back in the first half of 1998, as Titanic kept going and going at the box office, Entertainment Tonight somehow found a way to do a story about its male star, Leonardo DiCaprio, every single weeknight. It was quite a feat. By May, as Titanic was finally giving way to the summer-movie onslaught, ET had to resort to starting out a story about UPN's new show The Love Boat: The Next Wave with "They may not have Leo on this boat, but...."

Over the next ten years DiCaprio stayed out of the spotlight and mainly starred in movies directed by Martin Scorsese, not Titanic-sized films. What was poor ET to do? Last August I found out: Brangelina!

Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and their 17 kids are always good for a story. Did Brad get a new haircut? Is Angelina pregnant again? Or is one of her adopted kids adopting a kid of his or her own? It's an ET first!

Later that month, however, I passed by Entertainment Tonight This Weekend on a Saturday and saw a story about the top summer romance movies. Number one was no surprise: Titanic.

Tonight I tuned into Entertainment Tonight for the first time since last August. It's now been almost a month since Michael Jackson died, and he's still the top story. When will he no longer be the top story? Once Leonardo DiCaprio gets Brad Pitt pregnant, of course.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Some things are meant to be ignored.

The fortysomething man in the coffee shop with the rock-musician hair and the sandals and the purple T-shirt and the skin tone that suggests a natural tan mixed with natural dirt and dust gets up to go to the bathroom. The sign on the door says "Please knock before entering." He either sees it and chooses to ignore it or doesn't see it at all.

He comes out a few minutes later. A sign on the door inside the bathroom says "Please turn out the light. Thank you!" He either sees it and chooses to ignore it or doesn't see it at all. But he's been here before.

A few minutes later he goes back to the bathroom, this time with a newspaper. The man doesn't read signs asking him to be polite and perform simple tasks in places that aren't his own home, but he does require reading material when performing other everyday tasks.

Before he reaches the bathroom door he does some twists: spine goes left, arms go right, spine goes right, arms go left. He steps toward the door again, then lifts his knees up to his chest one at a time. I see all this, but I pretend to ignore it, as if I didn't see it at all.

A few minutes later he comes out of the bathroom. The newspaper does not. He's left the light on once again. Maybe newspapers are afraid of the dark. Maybe he's the only one who knows this.

The man goes outside and paces around while talking on his cell phone for 20 minutes. In that time I use the bathroom. I turn off the light as I exit. The man with the long hair comes back to the bathroom a third time. No knock before he walks in, no flipping off the light as he leaves. He goes back outside to make another phone call. But now he's left with a burning question: How did the newspaper get up and turn off the light while he was making his phone call?

Some questions are better left unanswered.

As I make my way out of the coffee shop, I notice the man has taken up two entire tables with briefcases, papers, and a computer. He's set up shop. Until he goes home, he is home.

I leave the coffee shop and wait for the light to change so I can cross the street. Even though he isn't planning to cross the street, the man strolls up beside me and says into his phone, "Is this the home of 'Make My Day' Kay?"

Some things are meant to be ignored.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

We are a fat, tattooed nation.

And as I discovered last Monday at the Warren Dunes in Sawyer, Michigan, sometimes we are both. Lots of pain, and still lots of gain.

Monday, July 6, 2009

the boomerang of satire

Last October a Republican women's group in California distributed a newsletter that featured an illustration of then-Senator Barack Obama on a food stamp; the presidential candidate was surrounded by a watermelon, ribs, a bucket of KFC, and the Kool-Aid Man. When Diane Fedele, the group's president, was asked by the Riverside Press-Enterprise about the stereotype-laden imagery, she replied, "It was just food to me. It didn't mean anything else."

Of course it didn't.

Fedele resigned shortly thereafter, but the humdinger is that the illustration was created five months earlier by an anti-right-wing blogger. "This article was complete satire and I wanted to let anyone reading this know that this was not a slight on Obama at all," he wrote in an update to his original May 26 entry. "It was a satirical look at some of the Fox News watching right-wingers out there that are afraid of a government that sponsors welfare type programs. It was intended to poke fun at the unrealistic fears and agenda of racism that a fringe element of Republicans strongly embrace."

If you don't get the joke, the joke's on you. But if you don't carefully construct the joke you're creating in the first place, the joke's on you as well.

All I know is that I really like watermelon. And it's summer now, so I win.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Neo-soul singer Maxwell will release his first new album since 2001's Now on Tuesday. It's called BLACKsummers'night, and it's part of a trilogynext year will see the release of blackSUMMERS'night, with blacksummers'NIGHT set for 2011.

How are fans supposed to differentiate between the titles of the three albums? By shouting whatever word is in caps? Sure, the trilogy's name looks good when it's lined up this way ...


... but help us out with some "Part I," "II," "III" suffixes, Maxwell. And please explain to your punctuation-obsessive fans how one night can belong to so many black summers.