Monthly Archives: February 2011

it’s complicated, so they breakin’ up or what

2/28/11

I’m going to have to admit something here: I’m doing Facebook wrong. If you look at any web stats over the last two years, you’ll see that Facebook is no longer just an interesting part of the internet, it is the internet. It’s such an integral part of American life that I doubt any business in the world, no matter how priggish and stuffy, has the balls to block their employees from using it all day. It’s not oxygen; it’s the lungs.

This may change, of course, and perhaps someone is reading this from the future thinking how quaint it all is, but in 2011 dollars, this is our Model T, our Volkswagen Beetle, our Cabbage Patch Kid.

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very big in 1983

And yet, I just don’t possess the addiction. I don’t have that mid-cerebrum inkling to check in every hour, nor really, every day. I’m well-versed in how to use social media to any end you’ve got cooking, but my own proclivities make me keep a little distance. Frankly, I feel like it’s a massive party full of the most wonderful people in the universe, but I can’t make myself want to go.

I adore seeing pictures of all of you, and I’ve happened into the odd discussion on two. I’ve chatted with friends from Hamburg to Carrboro, and these days, if I don’t crosspost the blog to Facebook, people think I’m camping on Uranus. But it always seems like… I dunno, work?

True, most of the younger demographic is using FB to further their romantic lives, whether or not they’re even aware of it. The intense social craziness that used to exist on little notes by the kitchen phone now exist in status updates, flirting is done via chat and text, and the party (and directions) is an event-click away.

But plenty of you are well past needing to pick up a fifth of Jägermeister for the Kappa Sig hall crawl, and still engage in meaningful discussion, and keep your friends afloat with wonderfully positive little missives, and the occasional “like”. I suppose my question is simple: I don’t mean this to be patronizing, nor judgmental, but I’d be interested for y’all to intellectualize why Facebook has become what it became for you.

axel paulsen and alois lutz walk into a bar

2/27/11

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We’ve been out of LA for the last week because of Lucy’s “spring break” from kindergarten – actually, it’s the first of two spring breaks, which is something I certainly never had growing up. Then again, I did my homework on the back of a coal shovel and walked to school while gargling shards of broken glass, so my perspective is a little warped.

We spent the first part of the week on Mammoth Mountain, but I know “My Ski Vacation” ranks up there with Tylenol PM in terms of yawn-inducement, so I’ll skip to where things get interesting. First off, the drive over the Sierra Mountains south to Death Valley and Las Vegas… absolutely stunning. About as bizarre and breathtaking as I’ve ever seen, and you know me, I drive a fucking lot. At one point on the mountain pass, the road went to one lane without even a sign:

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Our goal? Las Vegas, of course, for the Regional Ice Skating competition for adults held at the Fiesta rink, and the pressure was palpable. Tessa had been training for her two routines (one freestyle, one artistic) for months, and hundreds of skaters were participating. Between practices, she’d come over to the hotel and we’d do things like visit the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay:

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actual shark swimming overhead

 

 

Tessa was a bit of a child skating star, winning several competitions when she was 7-8 years old, but stopped competing when she went to boarding school in Scotland, where I’m told there was ONE RINK in the entire COUNTRY. Skip forward thirty years or so, and I got her and Lucy some ice skates for Christmas – totally the wrong pairs, it turns out, but it rekindled something in my wife that was pretty fantastic.

For the last year, she and Lucy have been frequenting the Culver arena in LA, and when it came time for Regionals, my wife threw her hat in the rink, as it were. Like any intense microcosm, it always sounds a bit dorky on the outside, but when I got there, I fully understood how intense this thing was. Plus, I admit: I’m a sucker for other people’s passions. If someone loves garden mulch, Uranus or the tax code enough, I’ll always find their dedication addictive and join in.

As adults, most of us stopped being graded and number-judged about 25 years ago, and yet here are these skaters, willingly putting themselves in front of actual judges to leave a hero or a heartbreak. After three days, I started to hear the gossip, and know who they were talking about.

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So Tessa did her dramatic program on Saturday, and said she made most of it up (although it looked gorgeous to me). Skating to “Golden Slumbers” by the Beatles, it was theatrical and heartfelt. Unexpectedly, she walked away with the silver medal, which I thought absolutely rocked the free world.

Then yesterday morning, she had her lighter program, this time doing choreography to “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. This might sound a little weary given our proximity to March, but Las Vegas was going through one of its coldest days ever, threatening to snow for the first time in four years. Tessa fell during one of her “waltz jumps” in warm-ups, and I was worried she’d tense up.

Instead, she steeled her will, connected with the judges, and skated her best performance against much stiffer competition. She probably won’t let me show her whole performance, but I’m going to sneak one of her spins on here just for fun:

 

 

After watching all the skaters, Lucy and I ran to the scoring results, and there it was: SHE GOT THE GOLD!

Of course, the lesson for the Lulubeans is to work hard, and it’s all about having fun, and even if you come in last, it’s still a fantastic experience… but the words tumble off the tongue a little easier when you’ve got the hardware glittering around your neck all the way home.

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switchback paths make the mountain easy

2/24/11

You’ll have to excuse us today – my brother (and web admin) Steve and I are working out how the blog should look. For those of you in the biz, we’re trying out a “fixed” vs. “fluid” text layout and playing with the font.

Personally, I don’t like it when individual entry pages (aka the “comment” pages) have sentences that go for 16 inches across your screen before breaking to the next line. I lose my place, and it encourages skimming, but then again, my web habits are weird. Any thoughts on this or a redesign?

And now for your help:

Okay, make sure you’re on the main blog page, not an individual entry. In the first paragraph above, on what word does the line break back to the left margin? Then click on the “comments” button below and look again (since that takes you to the individual entry page that removes all the links at left).

For instance, on my page, the word “fixed” is the beginning word of the second line. On the “comments” page, the second line is already the start of the next paragraph (“Personally”).

I know it all depends on how big you typically open your browser windows, but that’d be good info to know before we make any “fixed” widths. If you know what I mean. Too complicated? Probably, but I don’t ask much of you lot, do I?

cro-magnon forced into a bowtie

2/23/11

You are medicating yourself right now, no matter how hard you try to stop it. Alas, let me explain.

Since Lucy came around five years ago, I’ve been looking at the world through her eyes approximately 50% of the time – not just when we’re together, but also when I’m alone, and the juxtaposition has been horrifying. I’m continually amazed at the kind of casual, ugly, soulless profanity I used to take for granted; I have seen stomach-churning porn, the equivalent of snuff films, horror movies full of splayed intestines, and all kinds of gruesome images meant to deaden the human spirit.

Now I have a little girl who has a hard time getting through Snow Buddies without screaming in fear. Necessarily, I’ve adopted much of her innocence as my own, and largely shed all the callouses and callousness that enabled me to get through my twenties. This tectonic change in the way I experience culture has led me to understand a much bigger, much more obvious point: the western world of the 20th and 21st century is goddamn crazy and we are all doing a heroic job of getting through every day without EXPLODING.

The bombardment of information, the months spent in traffic, the demands of jobs, and the backbreaking load of personal shame each of us endures every day has made us, the human animal, virtually incompatible with the lives we’ve built for ourselves. That we still laugh, still possess empathy, still find time for absurdity and silliness, is proof some part of homo sapiens remains truly divine.

I’m not saying you have to accept this “hunter/gatherer forced into sensory overload” theory, but if you do, you might also accept we can only get through this life with help, by whatever means necessary. In my experience, almost every single person I’ve ever met needs to compensate for the horrorshow of modern existence by some means. In fact, I’ll put a partial list here:

• pot

• cocaine, ecstasy and harder drugs

• alcohol

• antidepressants

• coffee

• behavioral pharmaceuticals

• overworking

• overeating

• magical thinking

• singular obsessions (hobbies, sports)

…and those are just some popular ones. I have come to understand I compensate for my inability to “deal” with the present world by taking Cymbalta, Dexedrine, weekly talk therapy, a hyper-caffeinated tea, a mid-level candy addiction, and perhaps a low-level Wikipedia addiction. These things were unnecessary when we were at Carolina, due to the incessant distractions of Experience and Romance, but as all of us got older, we either had to have a fearless look at ourselves or risk becoming the unwitting punchline of a forgotten joke.

Put simply, we are all biologically engineered for a simpler existence. It can be argued that we’re not meant to be constantly hijacked by Facebook, not meant to be sitting on a stopped freeway speechless with rage, not meant to sleep in a room scattered with LED lights glowing all night. We are not meant to know about earthquakes in New Zealand, global warming, or babies dying in gangland shootouts.

And so I look at Lucy, and I see the world through her eyes, and I want to limit as much of that lunacy as possible. I bristle at the idea that sheltering kids from the world’s worst aspects renders them unprepared for the realities of life – I got a healthy dose of the world’s untethered morality and cruelty growing up, and it did me no favors.

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Lucy with Lily’s friend Bisou

Do I fancy some return to a halcyon, simpler life, free of deviant pornography, Twitter and foreign correspondents reporting from mass graves? Um… no. I’m way too much a product of technophilia, and I’m a big believer in antibiotics and modern dentistry. But there may be some redemption in understanding you’re doing a pretty fantastic job just by staying sane.

If you aren’t one of the rare beasts who require no help to slalom through life at the beginning of the 21st century, then you are medicating, even if you don’t see it. I don’t know what your specific medication is, but you can start by forgiving yourself that you need it. Brian Wilson – a genius madman shut-in if there ever was one – wrote I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times, but really, it’s okay, because none of us were.

leave it alone, ‘cuz we can’t see eye to eye

2/17/11

This may be a bit of an odd task, but I’ve been trying to think of life experiences that are “untranslatable” to anyone who hasn’t had that experience. I’ll forgo the obvious two biggies – dealing with death, and dealing with cancer – and pick things that are a little more random, and a little more specific.

Remember, these are things that can’t really be explained to someone who hasn’t undergone them – in fact, usually when you start explaining it, their eyes glass over and you can actually see them not taking it in. In many cases, it’s a defense mechanism borne out of self-preservation.

Anyway, here’s a list to get started:

• kidney stones. I can’t come up with a word that means “excruciating and nauseous to the point of near death” for those lucky not to get them.

• being any person of color in the US

• depression. No, it’s not “being sad.”

• delivering a baby.

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• having a kid or kids. Whether you like it or not, you go to Babyland, and unless you work at it, you and your single friends no longer speak the same language.

• miscarrying and any fertility issues

• debilitating back pain. This is another one impossible to describe – you can’t express to anybody how your entire world is painted in colors of misery for months, because, well, it’s boring.

• being the veteran of a war

Others, perchance?

to tell the truthiness

2/15/11

For your pleasure, I give you my brother Sean (and Lucy’s cousin Barnaby) on The Colbert Report last night:

Sean is the first parent you see, wearing a green argyle sweater, holding Barno in his brush-striped hoodie. Wish there were more of both of them, but the piece is pretty awesome, and Sean’s deadpan delivery gets high marks from all judges. Enjoy!

crayons with the placemat

2/14/11

The argument mentioned in yesterday’s blog came down to exactly the same conversation y’all had in the comments section: the relative merit in avoiding American chain restaurants out of snobbery, out of a genuine disgust for the food, or out of a charitable desire to eat at an local, independent joint. And there’s always the question of “why avoid these places at all?”

I’ve found myself on road trips and other sojourns with people who will absolutely not eat at one of these jernts, and it has driven me nuts, because a) I’m usually starving by the time the subject has come up, and b) for the same reasons Neva mentioned – that it’s just silly to dismiss all these places out of hand. Especially since there is a world of difference between Panera Bread (kinda awesome), Souplantation (LOVE), and Denny’s (where you might get throat fungus).

I share my bro-in-law Jon’s irrational affection for Cracker Barrel, even though it’s precisely the kind of place that should give me hives, what with the old washboards on the walls and the obese seniors selling taffy shaped like Jesus. Their corporate headquarters have historically been no friends to the gays, the blacks, and the women. And yet their chicken-fried steak and pancakes are a thing of wonder.

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Here’s the thing: I wouldn’t go to these places normally, because they will eventually make you fat, sick and demoralized. But on trips or odd occasions away from home base, it generally comes down to a decision tree for all of us, doesn’t it? For me, it’d work like this:

1. Is there a good local independent place that will give you a taste of the region, and it seems relatively uncomplicated? (if yes, go there – if no, move to next question)

2. Are you and yours pretty hungry, and it’s a problem that needs to be solved in the next 25 minutes? (if no, go home – if yes, move on)

3. Do you have a few minutes, and do you want to avoid feeling like death? (if not, go to McDonald’s – if yes, move on)

4. Is your only option a Denny’s or something like Ruby Tuesday’s or Long John Silver? (if yes, kill yourself – if no, move on)

5. Is there a Panera Bread or Quizno’s or Chipotle or Cracker Barrel? (if yes, ROCK AND ROLL!!!)

two eggs over medium, hon

2/13/11

Because of Valentine’s Day and an argument had in the back seat of a car some months ago, please rate the following 8 chain restaurants in order, from Perfectably Acceptable to Vaguely Barf-Inducing:

• Applebee’s

• Chili’s

• Chipotle Grill

• Cracker Barrel

• Denny’s

• IHOP

• Outback

• Panera Bread

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i see your orange cone, sir, and will run o’er it

2/10/11

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How ’bout a light and airy code word question to start our weekend proper? I had no idea there was such a big debate on whether you should pull straight into a parking space, or back into it (leaving your car facing forward). I definitely have my own preference – and parking lot etiquette has taken over a curious amount of real estate in my mind since spending time in California – but what is yours?