Monthly Archives: February 2006

slouching toward bobsledom

Rant #945b: In Which I Hate America and I Also Hate Your Freedoms

I have been an Olympic obsessor ever since I was eight years old watching the 1976 Games and falling in love with Nadia Comaneci. My favorite was probably the 1992 Games in Barcelona because I had just been there, and for some reason, the competitions seemed addictively emotional.

The last time I complained about Americans in the Olympics, three things happened: everyone (including my wife) told me I was a butthole; I posted a picture of Misty May’s derrière that became one of the leading search terms for this blog; and I predicted the Tar Heels’ 2005 NCAA Championship three months before the season even started.

Two years later, I’m sure I’ll still get shit for this, but I’m completely underwhelmed with our team, and find myself rooting for Fins, Aussies and the Norse. Take Bode Miller: I don’t care what he does with his off-hours, in fact I wish him all the whoring and freebasing he can fit in. When he admitted he sometimes drank booze before skiing, pundits around America chastised him for being a bad role model, but I just thought none of these pundits had ever been to fucking Aspen.

Their hand-wringing was such crap; government health officials and sportswriters at small papers never find a parade too inane to rain on. Let’s face facts: American sports heroes stopped being role models about fifteen years ago. Jordan and Rose gambled, Kobe raped, every millionaire goes on strike every three years, and Charles Barkeley is a self-admitted asshole. The Olympics are often no better, as our 2004 Men’s Basketball team of prima donnas slept on the Queen Mary and rode the Hubris Train all the way to the BRONZE in a sport WE INVENTED.

(On a side note, it means taking back the gold in 2008 will be a source of pride, and who benefits? Koach K, of course, who will be lauded as the man who brought glory back to the Americans. In reality, it wasn’t Larry Brown or George Karl’s fault nobody would listen to them in 2004. The whole thing fucking stinks, and I’ll be rooting for Croatia.)

Anyway, million-dollar Nike endorser Bode Miller, after finishing fifth in the event he was supposed to dominate, said the Austrian guy had a once-in-a-lifetime run and he could never have beat him. A half hour later, a Frenchman did. In essence, Miller never took responsibility for his performance, simply lamely choosing to believe he ran into a buzzsaw. The extra 15 lbs in his gut might not have helped either.

In her article (don’t bother, it’s a NYT paid subscription and you wouldn’t have read it anyway), Selena Roberts quotes skier Damon Rahlves on his 10th-place finish: “Whatever.” “Whatever” is the “fuck you” of all spirit, and I should know, my generation invented it.

Hannah Kearney, the favorite for the moguls, didn’t even qualify. Apolo Anton Ohno – 1500m gold medalist last time – slipped while needlessly trying to pass another competitor during the preliminaries and is out of the competition.

Despite NBC’s desperate lunge at keeping Michelle Kwan in the news for three straight weeks, she’s about the only one showing some class. She knew she wasn’t good enough to compete and stepped aside, not even staying to do commentary.

Shaun White (the “Flying Tomato”) is another kid who is just too innocent and loves snowboarding too much to be blinded by pride and the blazing sun of future endorsement deals. I love this kid, and indeed, he’s making my hair of 1985 super cool again. And Joey Cheek, donating his $25K to Darfur? Stud.

But they seem like exceptions. The Olympics are far from over, of course, but they already taste funny. The public relations maven of the United States, Bill Marolt, gave Team USA a brand name tagline plastered over everything they touch: “Best in the World.” Like most American moves of late, it lacks nuance, seems stunningly obnoxious to every other country, and isn’t even true.

If you plan on being less-than-stellar, at least act graciously; if you plan on being an unflappable rebel, at least win something – but to be both is now quintessentially American.

26.9″

2/12/06

There’s this great book of cartoons we used to have in our house growing up, I wish I could remember the name. It was written by a guy who was basically the State Cartoonist of Minnesota (and in fact, one of his cartoons had the state of Minnesota mocked up as a freeze-dried can of Taster’s Choice with Chapstick next to it – do you remember, Kent?)

Anyway, I digress. There was a cartoon in that book showing a balding nebbish with fourteen carousels of picture slides, with everyone asleep at the couch, bored out of their skulls. He says, “As soon as I heard the storm was approaching, my first reaction was, ‘Quick, Lois, the camera!’ The nimble hostess answered her clarion call, and needless to say, the Great Blizzard of Sherman Avenue did not go undocumented.”

That’s kinda the way I feel about “pictures of storms,” which all have a “you hadda be there” quality about them. And while this storm did dump the most snow in Central Park in recorded history since 1869, we must be getting used to unprecedentedness, because it didn’t seem all that bad.

Everyone really did take it in stride – there were no runs on milk like they do in North Carolina (can someone please explain that to me?) and as long as you bought plenty of espresso and baby food, it felt entirely doable.

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shopping before the storm

That said, it was stunningly beautiful, and psyched Lucy all up. I took her outside during a particularly harrowing blast of 40mph winds, and she thought it was high-larious. Right-click here (15MB-QT) for a little video of what we saw beforehand.

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breakfast on Sunday morning

The roads were cleared immediately, teens swarmed the neighborhood asking $20 to shovel your stoop (a bargain, actually), and it seemed nothing like that blizzard of ’96 that basically TURNED NEW YORK CITY OFF for two days. It being Sunday lessened the impact, and I’m sure kids are pissed they won’t get the coveted Holy Grail of Winter: the oh-so-rare Two Snow Days in a Row™.

The subways were running fine by noon, so we went over to Alex and Lorraine’s house in Brooklyn Heights to see the 5-day-old Toby, who is a total cutie. I tried to take some pictures without the flash – somehow babies look so much better in natural light – but all those years of Cuervo 1800 must have jiggled my stillness. Bugging Tessa outside proved easier:

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And so the streets are quiet with no tires hitting asphalt, no shoes on pavement. The muffled quality of a mid-winter night, everything on hold, spring a million years away. In its solemnity, it has an undeniable appeal. A few days ago, I was sleeping in Venice with afternoons in the 80s, a dry desert scirocco moving wind chimes. Tonight, I sleep next to this:

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our little car top right

bachelor padding

2/9/06

I’m utterly exhausted from all the travel (and almost three hours of hoops tonight), so here’s a few things on my mind as I collapse into the weekend.

– I spent close to four days downloading “Weeds” from various sources on the internet; we have a project that is tonally similar. The minute I finished, Showtime released the entire show at the iTunes Music Store. Grrr. And for those who think I’m stealing, let me just say I pay for Showtime in TWO DIFFERENT PLACES, so lick it.

– We have an invitation to go to Whistler Mountain and ski. While it sounds hard to do with a 9-month-old, apparently they have had 10 FEET OF POWDER en route to the snowiest January in recorded history. Anyone ever been?

– Bush releasing details of the “foiled Los Angeles plot” to run airplanes into the cylindrical skyscraper in downtown L.A. (seen on every establishing shot of “Alias” and “24,” ironically) seems a bit, I dunno, bullshit. My feeling is that normal government operations would have caught this plot, that is, if it was even serious (many intelligence people think it was nothing more than yammering). And they were caught by Asian authorities. And why tell us now? The whole thing smells like four-year-old halibut.

– Old friend and very talented photographer David Surowiecki has a photo essay of Fashion Week over at Slate.

– I am by myself here in Brooklyn while my wife and daughter are in Los Angeles. I miss them both so much that it is actually painful. Tessa put Lucy on the phone and just the sound of her little breathing and nonsense syllables strains my aorta. LFMD wanted a movie of her giggling, and while I haven’t converted any of the recent video files, right-click on this link (Mac users, just click and wait a few seconds) for a lo-res movie we took in October during a road trip.

Man, I’m hopeless.

open to falling from grace

2/8/06

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Total miles from Chapel Hill to New York City: 506

Total miles we drove to avoid Washington D.C. rush hour: 602

Song heard on Bud’s mix tape: “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell

Song heard at Flying J Truck Stop speakers: “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell

Approximate number of people at Flying J Truck Stop who have owned a Joni Mitchell album: 0

Date of first I-95 trip for Ian and Bud: October 1985

Cumulative number of times Ian and Bud have driven from NC to NY, apart or together: 174

Time in 1989 spent talking about girls in 1989: 94%

Time in 2006 spent talking about girls in 1989: 88%

Sampling of bands heard: Go West, Lou Gramm, Pat Benetar, Sneaker Pimps, Moby

Album Ian threatened to play: “Louder Than Bombs”

Years in which Ian and Bud have slept in the same room: 1985-87, 1991-93, 2006

Ferret that lived with Ian and Bud on bunk bed in 1987: Sergei

Song that Bud was missing from his ’80s collection: “You Ain’t Worth the Salt in My Tears” by Martin Briley

Martin Briley’s cousin by marriage: Jordana Davis Williams (Ian’s sister-in-law)

Developmental leap not witnessed by Ian today: Lucy standing up without pulling herself up on another object

Developmental leap witnessed by Bud today: Ian paid for gas

Assumption that we were pretty full of shit in college: universal

Total minutes of shit talked on road trip: 480 minutes, with pee breaks

touchable

2/7/06

Well, what can you say? I hate those Dook motherfuckers more than I hate most diseases, pestilence and running mouth sores, but they did exactly what they needed to do to win. I am going to say three things about it before I sleep off the Mike’s Hard Lemonade I’ve been drinking:

1. They ran my Why I Hate Dook column in the student newspaper today, sixteen years after it was first written. It has been the “most popular” article all day, which means that at least one little piece of pop culture still has the legs to outlast them all. I’m going to be ninety-seven years old and still get emails about it. And then die with a smile on my face.

2. We are National Champions. During the game tonight, two foul-mouthed 20-year-old girls wearing Dook paraphernalia started talking shit to the hundreds of fans around them, me included. I was told to “eat shit” and that I was “a faggot.” I told them they were unbelievably rude, and then they gave me “the finger.”

Y’see, this is why that article resonates: those people are still like that. We even got shit at the convenience store on the way home by three big Dook bandwagon fans. When a Carolina fan behind me got fed up and said “well, we’re still National Champions,” one of the Dookies replied, “You ain’t full from what you ate yesterday.” This is the binary, win-at-the-expense-of-humanity bullshit that we have to put up with. The mocking, the giggling, the crassness and classlessness.

Bud and Chip actually congratulated some Duke fans on the way out of the building. We talked about how we could be better. We loved the play of our Blue Team, we thought how much poise these freshmen had by the end of the game. Despite the worst ball management in nineteen years during the last play (second only to Ranzino Smith’s unbelievable bungle in the ’87 ACC Championship Game against NCSU), this is a rare loss where we will learn something other than how to lose.

To come back from seventeen down in the second half to lead by six? To lose our top seven players and STILL stick it to the bastards already pre-ordained as National Champions?

Me? I can’t congratulate Dook people. It’s not in my genetic makeup. I exist to be the anti-THEM. I am there in the trenches, fighting for YOU, my Carolina friends. When dook goes down in the Elite Eight by a mid-major team of scrappy sharpshooters, I will think of those awful girls who plagued us all game and deliver my emotional middle finger through karma, wherever they may be.

3. No matter what, it’s always good to get the Four Guys Not Named Biff together, my freshman best friends and roommates. This is my 21st home dook game in a row, and win or lose, it couldn’t be better company.

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earth has no sorrow

2/5/06

My buddy Salem wrote to me today trying to sort out his thoughts on the Mohammed cartoon brouhaha in Europe – as far as I can tell, some European newspapers ran a cartoon that had a caricature of Mohammed, and some of the more extreme Muslim youth around the world (but especially in Denmark and England) took to the streets, screamed bloody murder, burned down two embassies and carted signs that said “Europe, your 9/11 is coming.”

There is something inherently disgusting in that sort of nihilism, especially over a fucking cartoon, and I think most Americans looked at these people while shivering with disgust. Prominent Muslim leaders stressed this was not how most people in their religion felt, but man, it’s hard not to feel the white-hot crazy rage of their rank-and-file members.

Growing up, whenever I heard the “Death to America” chants covered on television, I never gave it much pause: I figured these were dirt-broke, uneducated teens with no job prospects and nothing else to do but become radicalized. Besides, we had it so good here in America – let’s just stick to our business and let them say whatever they want.

September 11 changed that for me, as it did a lot of people, as many of us looked inward to see what America was doing to make people so angry. But it also did something else: it made me fairly intolerant.

You hear enough about any religion, and it all starts to sound a little crazy, but like anything else, there is crazy and then there’s CRAZY. Even though it was a long road, I have largely made my peace with Christianity: I believe 25% of Christians are fully nuts and evil, but there is a warm benevolence to the religion that still beckons to me as a child.

But even nutty Christians would not put a fatweh on Salman Rushdie. They would not gather in the streets and wish the fiery deaths of thousands of infidels over a cartoon. They don’t publicly behead women for adultery, nor do they saw off the heads of Washington Post reporters for being Jewish. Oh, and Christian woman are usually allowed to vote, even if I don’t like who they’re voting for.

I am trying not to let these inner – and surely racist – demons get the best of me. I’m sure my view of their religion has been tainted by the media, by not truly understanding the Arab psyche, by my own prep-school WASPie cinnamon-latté whiteness. I’ve heard that it is a “religion of peace,” that there are thousands of charitable groups at work, and it provides spiritual solace for untold millions. One of my favorite people in the world converted to Islam and remains one of the most fiercely wonderful, independent thinkers I know.

But still, I’m unmoved at best, and scared shitless at worst. Are Islamofascists going to plague us for another fifty years, or am I just another world-class American asshole?

Unbelievable double-standards abound: Muslim sharia law demands death for those who leave the religion, yet Muslims are free to proselytize all over the world. They will try to kill cartoonists who draw Mohammed, yet their papers are filled with cartoons depicting dirty Jews, especially Ariel Sharon as Adolph Hitler(!) The way they treat women should be a worldwide emergency human rights issue.

I don’t know. I’m interested how the rest of you feel about it, because, like Salem, I’m having trouble stomaching so much of what I’m seeing.

seat backs and tray tables

2/2/06

I don’t keep a diary anymore, I keep this blog, so it will subject you to many intimate details that may seem uninteresting, or worse, like luxury problems that many starving Africans would kill to have. But I feel like I may have conquered a huge personal problem over the last year, and I feel sanguine enough to write about it here.

Put shortly, I had a fear of flying that was verging on a full-scale pathology. I hated planes so much that I couldn’t stand watching scenes on television that were taking place on a plane. This didn’t stop me from flying, mind you: though I did manage to do a shitload of driving over the years (as readers here might attest), when push came to shove, I always gritted my teeth and bore it like a man. Well, a man on Xanax who cringed white-knuckled at each spot of turbulence, but a man nonetheless.

I flew without too many issues from birth until college – I recall being a little freaked out at times, but well within reason. Then, sometime in the ’90s, I had about ten very turbulent flights in a row, and it pushed the cheese off my cracker. I began all kinds of rituals, magical thinking, anything to get me through.

September 11 only crystallized what had already begun. I believed the airline companies really didn’t care about our safety and were willing to sacrifice a few planes every once in a while to cut back on costs. I felt that airport security was a fucking joke, and morons like that “shoebomber” guy actually scared me.

But in the last year or two, I knew airline travel was going to be a reality for me if I wanted to work in television and movies – you simply can’t drive from coast to coast all the time (even though I certainly tried). When Lucy came along, I knew it was time to fucking grow up, stop being scared of the monsters in the closet and turn off the night light and get some actual grown-up sleep.

So here’s what I did. First off, you can’t discount the Celexa. Having Celexa in my life robbed my brain of the ability to obsess about an upcoming flight a month ahead of time. Celexa says “oh for chrissake think of something else” and within a few seconds I’d be thinking about titties.

Step two: Direct flights, no transfers. Get it over with. If it costs more money, then pay for it. Obviously if you live in Iowa City like my brother Kent, this isn’t an option, but where we live, there’s always something going straight where you need it. Or get as close as you can and then drive. Whatever – even seasoned pros don’t need to be on two different planes in one day.

Next step: I get a window seat, and after I look at all the cool stuff as we take off, I CLOSE THE WINDOW for the rest of the whole flight. Doing this allowed me to visualize flying as just a ride in a cabin, not a Ride In A Cabin 31,000 Feet Over the Earth. When they say “don’t look down,” they are on to something. Now, when I think of flying, I only think of being in one place, and then being in another. As if it were a tunnel, not a suspension.

Then: Half (or whole, depending on length) of the ol’ standby Xanax, perhaps taken with a bit of bourbon and ginger. Not for anxiety anymore, but just for sleep. Because the truth about flying is this… it’s completely fucking boring and uncomfortable. If you can sleep through even 65% of it, you’re golden. The rest can be assuaged with a video iPod if you want some foolproof distraction.

I’ve been using this technique for a year now, and having just taken four long-ish flights in a row, I can feel my fear of flying seeping out the back of my tailbone. Quite frankly, I just don’t give a shit anymore. And this stuff used to take over weeks of my life with anxiety. The entire country, indeed the world, has now opened up and it’s SO REFRESHING.

I still love a long road trip, don’t get me wrong. Like Salem and I always say, we’ll drive 20 hours for 5 hours of fun. And after I write this blog, I’m flying to RDU for the Dook game on Tuesday, and it could be a rattler, but the fact that I DON’T CARE means I’m doing OK. In fact, during this last trip, I actually looked forward to some turbulence just to push myself. I’ll keep pushing myself as long as it takes.

There have been many times I’ve been self-loathing in here, truly full of disgust at my own being. And god knows I get every communicable disease there is. But with getting diseases, I am also a self-healer. Give me anything and it will make me miserable, but I will goddamn conquer it. Like the man said in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I got better.”

Every year, in order to retard my inexorable march towards 40 years old, I learn an entirely new skill. The last few years it has been skiing, desktop publishing, golf… and drums will be next year. But this year, I am teaching myself how to fly.

cruising altitude: 29 inches

2/1/06

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Hearing about someone else’s travel problems is likely as boring as hearing about someone else’s dreams, but hey, I don’t make you read this stuff, do I?

We were in San Antonio, TX visiting Tessa’s mom Sandy, having two or three days of great weather, trips to the zoo, and cavorting on the Riverwalk. I have loved SATX ever since Jon Vaden and I got stuck there at the Final Four in 1998 (what a devastating loss) and always dig coming back.

Driving the rental car to the airport yesterday, a woman slalomed her Dodge RAM Truck around us, swerved in front of me, and slammed on the brakes. As there were cars to either side of me, all I could do was skid helplessly into her. I was only going about 10-12mph, but still, her bumper basically destroyed the hood of the rental car.

Everyone was okay. In fact, Lucy couldn’t stop laughing. She has this little Beavis laugh (“heh-heh, heh-heh”) that is truly bizarre, and she does it every time something dramatic happens. Now Tessa and I do it too.

Anyway, the police report and the Hertz paperwork took so long that we missed our flight and re-booked it for 6:40am this morning. Went back to Sandy’s place, except she was gone, thus I had to scale the house and break into the second floor.

This morning we dash out of the house, thinking we’re on time. We get to the gate, and it’s full of people: we assume they’re waiting for our flight to leave too. Heh-heh, heh-heh, our flight had taken off five minutes before.

So then we got ANOTHER flight to LA through San Francisco. I popped a Xanax and slept most of the way, but when we got to SF, the weather had turned nasty and we circled the Bay Area for 45 minutes. When we landed, WE HAD MISSED THE FLIGHT TO LOS ANGELES.

So you know what we said? FUCK IT. (Heh-heh. Heh-heh. Mom and Dad said “FUCK IT.”) We’re staying in San Francisco, and we’re going to eat at Betelnut, one of our favorite restaurants in America. And so my brother Steve joined us and it was awesome. I’m writing from a bed & breakfast on Union Street that has wireless DSL.

I have no idea if we’ll be on that plane tomorrow. We may go to Las Vegas, or Phoenix. I saw a plane that goes to Medford, Oregon and they said it was pretty up there. Maybe we’ll stay here in San Francisco and work for all the start-up dot-coms that have money again. Or pour fudge at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. Anything is possible, my friends, and either way it’s AWESOME:

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