Monday, February 9, 2009

25 Things About Me- Taken from Facebook

1. If I die before I witness a San Francisco Giants' World Championship, my life will be somewhat incomplete, no matter what else happens.

2. One of my proudest achievements is also one of my most frustrating: I was "reassigned" as the campus newspaper adviser after one year because the administration was uncomfortable with actual journalism being taught, rather than just putting out a monthly propaganda newsletter about how great things were. It still aggravates me just as much almost three years later.

3. If there had been "Rock Band" when I was in college, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have graduated, at least on time.

4. As it was, it was close: I had to call from a pay phone in Switzerland (a month after walking the stage at Davis) to verify I had actually passed a class that the professor had threatened me with no credit in. I apologize to the Swiss people who had to deal with the drunken American redhead yelling "I graduated! Yes! Oh, wait. Is that a good thing?"

5. Most days I can look around and think how blessed I am to come to work every day and be surrounded by youthful vitality and laughter and noise. Some days I simply want to kill them all. The day half of them cut to get free Denny's was the most recent example.

6. My wife and I first got together in a friends' house in San Francisco where neither of us lived. In the morning, I woke up and went down the hill to walk in the Bay to Breakers race with some other buddies. Our pre-planned costume theme? The Walk of Shame.

7. My biggest problem with most who call themselves "conservatives" is that they usually just repeat ideology they've heard some right-wing commentator spout off, and they rarely have any history or evidence to back it up. The fact that they've been on the wrong side of every single civil rights issue and continue to back things like Prop H8te is especially galling.

8. I can't stand when people are consistently late. It speaks volumes about their personalities, even though every time they are tardy, they have an excuse about that one time and refuse to see it as a destructive pattern. I lived in San Francisco and commuted to Pleasant Hill for five years. In that time, I was late to school exactly twice: once when there was a gigantic accident on the Bay Bridge, and once when I was staying over at my parents' in Lafayette and set the alarm an hour late.

9. I can't take anyone's writing completely seriously who still hasn't figured out homonyms like your/you're, there/their/they're, its/it's, etc. It makes me apoplectic when I see someone has made a sign for the world to see (like at a sporting event or in front of a store). It makes me question if humans are really worthwhile as a species when I point this out to the signmaker and he or she shrugs instead of immediately apologizing and remedying the situation.

10. I nicknamed my sister "Vern" at an early age, and it has stuck with her into her 30's.

11. Perhaps the best compliment I've ever received was from a student who wrote to me in her journal a few years back: "You say what you'll do, and you do what you say." My wife recently told me something similar. In that vein, I think honesty is one of my biggest strengths/weaknesses. I am a terrible liar, and I often say things without really thinking about them. I then have to backpedal with a stunning lack of grace or finesse because of the aforementioned lack of guile.

12. I've never seen a tattoo that I thought was attractive. They are a total turn-off for me. I also firmly believe (with some evidence) that nearly every single person who gets a tattoo regrets doing so later in life. It's no secret why: most people get them between the ages of 18-25. You're not going to be the person you are at 30 that you were at 19. And thank god for that.

13. I consider myself a good writer in the same way I consider myself good at "Rock Band." I'm better than most people I know, which gives me an inflated sense of self-worth right up until I read something by F. Scott Fitzgerald or watch a youtube video of some nine year-old playing "Free Bird." That usually puts me in my place.

14. It frustrates me when people don't understand satire. There's a reason that "South Park" and "The Simpsons" are better shows than "Family Guy," and why "Tropic Thunder" is a better movie than "Paul Blart: Mall Cop."

15. If you saw "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," and CAN'T WAIT for the new "Transformers" movie, but you've never seen "Goodfellas"...well...let's not talk about movies until you've grown up a bit, eh?

16. I love and am a passionate defender of the Bay Area. I've lived here my whole life (except for a four-year sojourn at nearby Davis), just bought a house here, and went to elementary school with four of the five groomsmen from my wedding. I don't think it's because I'm a homebody, necessarily. I think it's because I was born and raised in one of the most desirable places on earth to be born and raised, and I've had the good sense to appreciate it, along with most of my friends. Kuzak will come to his senses sooner or later.

17. If you were born and raised in the Bay Area, you MUST root exclusively for Bay Area sports teams, no exceptions. If you root for the Lakers or another historically successful franchise, you are a poser. You're stuck with the Warriors like the rest of us, like it or not. End of discussion. Oh, and also: If you root for USC, the Yankees, or the Cowboys and you didn't go there/aren't from there, you are probably the Devil, or at least related to Him.

18. I'm always skeptical of people who insist on defining themselves as "we" and losing their identities to their significant others. It even bugs me when people post facebook/myspace profile photos locked in some sort of embrace with their spouse/mate/hookup partner, whatever. You can be in love and still have your own identity. Oh, and if you're under 25 or so, you are not sane when it comes to relationships. You may think and believe you are with all your might, but that does not make it so. Trust me.

19. If there were three abilities (non-superpower division) that I wish I had, they would be, in order: 1. Be able to dunk a basketball 2. Be able to hit a home run out of a major league ballpark 3. Be an amazing singer/actor (I'm in a few movies already but am not "amazing"- check out my videos). Also, I'd settle for just being an average ball hockey player, instead of the crappy one I am currently.

20. My ideal Friday night is take-out dinner at home with Eileen, watching Battlestar Glactica and a Sharks/Warriors/Giants victory, and having a couple ice-cold martinis. The college version of me just stomped on my head repeatedly while the mid-20's version stood there and watched, nodding.

21. I've been meaning to lose the same 20 pounds or so for roughly the last eleven years, but beer and fried foods keep altering the deal. I pray they do not alter it further.

22. I don't really have a favorite food, but at gunpoint I'd go with Mexican over Italian. I could probably eat some form of tacos for the rest of my life.

23. I used to describe my music taste as "eclectic." Then some guys at work made me realize that I was using "eclectic" to mean "a fan of girl pop music in addition to more typical rock fare." I watched an Avril Lavigne concert in HD last night at 2:30 in the morning. I'm not making this up.

24. My feelings about organized religion range from "benign and somewhat useful" at best to "contemptible and the root of most human tragedy for the past few thousands of years" at worst. Yet I'm the son of a church choir director, I married a Catholic in a Catholic church, and I find newer, more out-there religions like Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Scientology endlessly fascinating. I'm even reading a book on Mormons right now, and it's my second one.

25. I typically disdain sentimental, tacky crap. But every once in a while I take a look around at my family, my friends, my home, and the 40-50 happy birthday messages I got a few days ago, and I feel pretty damn lucky. Although, I'd really like a dog somewhere in my life.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Before I finally end this torture (I did title the first entry on this list as "A Project I Will Likely Never Finish"), I want to give shout-outs to two shows I mentioned in that very first blog on my top-10 t.v. shows list.

Battlestar Galactica
is just finishing up its run, and as I predicted, it would easily have made this list had I started it six months later. I went back and watched the first two seasons, and they were just as magnificent as I had suspected. It's yet another of the shows on this list that will turn some people off because of the name. And yeah, it's science fiction, for sure. But it's well-done sci-fi, which means it's actually about real issues, not just "aliens and robots and stuff," to paraphrase my 10th graders.

The other show I mentioned in that January 30th, 2008 blog (yes, it has taken me over a year to complete a top-10 does David Letterman do it?) ended this fall, and its finale was as good as anything I've seen besides Six Feet Under (#3). It's one of those endings that made you say, "You know, it couldn't have ended any other way." Michael Chiklis (as morally-challenged cop Vic Mackey) is fantastic (although whenever he would do something shady -which was A LOT- Eileen would lament, "I liked him better as 'The Commish'"), and the supporting cast is top notch and vulnerable to being killed off at any moment. This is hardly an original idea, but the crazy thing was how no matter how much destruction Vic causes or how many people he burns, there's part of you that keeps rooting for him, in spite of your better judgement. Such is the power of Chiklis; he intimidates the viewer into liking him even as he's intimidating and abusing other characters on the show.

Ok- on to the grand finale.

The Wire

Yet another HBO show, and yet another one that I didn't give a fair shot when it came out. I'm actually pretty ashamed of myself. I read a couple reviews about how it was the best show on television, came into the middle of an episode from season one, watched for about eight minutes, and decided it wasn't for me. Brilliant, Nolan.

What turned me off? All the stuff that eventually made me love it: the lack of any recognizable actors (although that's certainly changed now), the grittiness of urban Baltimore, the labyrinthine plots, the unhurried pace.

The beauty of The Wire is that it's so many things at once:

It's a cop show
. Some of the best scenes involved the archetypal buddy cop banter of "Bunk" Moreland and Jimmy McNulty, two of Baltimore's most effective yet hardest-drinking detectives. One highlight was the end of an episode in season one where the two investigate a crime scene, using only curse words, uttered in various grunts and incarnations.

It's a street show
. The Wire is the only t.v. drama that neither glorifies nor marginalizes what it's like to grow up in an urban neighborhood, where the drug trade is by far the most profitable career path. Instead of painting all these young, mostly black men with the same brush, each character has different motivations and nuance. This show will quite simply expand your mind on the nature of American crime and criminals. It won't make you change any of your political views, necessarily, but at the very least you will see things from a perspective that you might have never had before. Isn't that what great art is supposed to do?

It's a show about big issues
. Each season focuses on a different aspect of urban American life, and at the end of the season you will feel a mixture of hope, frustration, terror, and pride. But you will come away changed.

The first season introduced the street players and the cops who try (mostly fruitlessly) to stem the flow of drugs into the streets of Baltimore. We meet the legendary characters Avon Barksdale (drug kingpin), Stringer Bell (Avon's refined consigliere), and one of the superlative characters in t.v. history, Robin Hood of-the-Hood Omar Little. You've never been quite so terrified/delighted as when you've heard Omar whistle "The Farmer in the Dell," strolling slowly, a shotgun over his shoulder.

The second stanza chronicles life on the docks, showing the camaraderie and corruption that a blue-collar union can bring. Special props for introducing future Oscar nominee and Michael Scott paramour Amy Ryan as an idealistic but in-over-her-head dock cop.

The third season portrays a fascinating gamble in America's longest-running struggle: the war on drugs. The police captain makes an unofficial decision to allow drug dealers to operate without consequence in a certain area of town (comically labeled "Hamsterdam"). The results don't pretend to offer up an easy solution to our drug policy, but as usual, The Wire makes you think.

Most critics count the fourth season as the show's zenith, and I'm with them. It has special resonance for me, because it largely deals with public schools and all the roadblocks, setbacks, and occasional mini-triumphs everyone who enters that realm is subject to. The story of the four boys whose fates are to be all uniquely intertwined feels as authentic as a documentary while never becoming predictable.

Season five received grumbles of discontent from fans and critics who felt it neglected "the street," which is ironic because it dealt largely with homelessness. I had no problems with it. If anything, I thought it was slightly ahead of its time due to the way it defined the struggling American newspaper business (an expertise of head writer David Simon, who was a former crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun). The show ended well and with dignity, with its trademark tragedies and moments of sweetness.

I've thought about this last facet of the show a lot, and I hesitated to mention it because I thought it would look ridiculous in print. But it just keeps coming back to me: It's a show about bureaucracy. It's about American institutions and why they're largely so ineffective. The Wire shows that there are amazing, heroic people in every aspect of society. However, those bright lights are inevitably dimmed or even extinguished by the soul-crushing rules, order, and self-preservation that is promoted by the very systems we've put in place to ensure our safety, education, and pursuit of happiness. The amazing thing is how The Wire juxtaposes legal, government bureaucracy with organized crime and shows that a drug lord manages the same leadership challenges, petty jealousies, and nagging constituencies that a big-city mayor must face.

If you haven't already, you should rent this show from the beginning. Please don't give up on it after an episode or two. This is one of those great contributions to the cannon of works that are uniquely American, the t.v. equivalent of The Great Gatsby or The Godfather.

I'll end with the touching re-imagining of Margaret Wise Brown's "Goodnight, Moon," as told by incorruptible detective Kima Greggs to her son, Elijah:

Goodnight moon
Goodnight stars
Goodnight po-pos
Goodnight fiends
Goodnight hoppers
Goodnight hustlers
Goodnight scammers
Goodnight to everybody
Goodnight to one and all.