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My Greatest Fear

In September I took my two older children to the HorrorHound Convention in Indianapolis. It was a lot of fun, but at the end, crossing a busy street, my younger daughter–heedless, as is her way–ran out into oncoming traffic as we were crossing a busy intersection. My sister–surprisingly spry–put on a full Usain-Bolt-Level burst of speed and grabbed my daughter by the back of the shirt just as a Toyota Camry whizzed by. It was a close call, the kind of thing you laugh off at the time but wake up thinking about. It is not, however, what I fear the most.

I’m not afraid of monsters, I don’t think, having yet to see one. I imagine that if I woke up and found Bigfoot eating out of my pantry I would crap my pants and scream, but it’s not something I dwell on. Ghosts, well, ghosts don’t really do it for me either. I’m haunted enough by my own issues, so I don’t think Casper’s going to contribute all so much to an already healthy amount of torment. Serial killers are frightening, I suppose, but mercifully and objectively rare, no matter that shows like Hannibal and Criminal Minds make it seem like there are thousands of wackos (wackoes?) running around.

Sick kids or spouse, money issues, personal health–check, check, check. They register, but tension and general unease are not the same as fear.

Halloween day, I started thinking about what I truly fear, the kind of fear that puts the metal in your mouth, the balls in your stomach. I ran through all the above and more besides, and finally hit on it. And when I realized that this–this–was what I truly feared, it made me ashamed and not a little embarrassed.

I am afraid that if I have a particularly aggressive sneeze when I am peeing, that I will force too much urine out at once and blow out the end of my wiener.

Yeah.

I am fairly certain this is a physical impossibility. After a quick Google search, I could find nothing that confirmed or denied my worst fears (“Will my wiener blow up if I sneeze when I pee?” resulted in “0” hits, which is actually pretty impressive. I thought about changing the word “wiener” to something more scientific, but was pretty tired of researching by then so I let it stand.) I am sure I have sneezed while I was peeing, perhaps as a child, with no ill effects, but since the idea lodged in my fear centers I have made sure that sneezing and peeing are completely exclusive endeavours, even if I have to squeeze off in midstream or use every bit of self-control to staunch the sneeze before it starts.

I know where this fear began. Warner Bros. cartoons, specifically the scene where Bugs Bunny sticks his finger in the barrel of Elmer Fudd’s rifle and the gun goes off in Elmer Fudd’s face. Once again, not scientific, and the fact that I’m basing my greatest fear on a cartoon full of anthropomorphic, maniacal animals is troubling to say the least.

Am I terrible person that this completely fictional fear trumps the fear I should have for my children’s safety? What if a situation comes up where I have to choose–my family’s safety or sneezing while I pee? How will I react? In what godforsaken world would such a devil’s wager come to be? I’m overthinking, I suppose. We all have irrational fears, it’s just that mine isn’t on Google.

But there it is. My greatest fear.

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I Wish Ed Sheeran was Someone Else, So I could Like his Music (a few words on shallowness)

Let’s start this post with two (or three) marginally unrelated stories.

In 2014 Nick Paumgarten profiled Billy Joel in The New Yorker. It’s a great piece, whether or not you like Billy Joel. It’s a much better piece, if you like Joel however, because if you do not like Billy Joel, odds are you freaking HATE Billy Joel. The piece does a good job of explaining why you might hate him, I think, in that even now he seems so insecure, so aggressive in his insistence on laid back cool, if that makes sense, in projecting the louche old rock star ethos, all the while disputing the claims of alcoholism, the bad behavior. He seems like nothing so much as junior high poseur that tells you all about bagging chicks during spring break (spring break with his folks, of course, because it’s junior high…) but who refuses to take off his underwear when he has to shower in gym class. He’s the rebel who still worries what his mother thinks of him.

He wants to be Neil Young, but is more like Neil Sedaka. He is most of us, in other words.

But most of us do not have thirty-three number one songs. Songs that have led Bruce Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau to call him “one of the most musically astute composers of that era.” Songs Bruce Springsteen himself says are “built like the Rock of Gibraltar. Until you play them, you don’t realize how well they play.”

I don’t really know if Billy Joel wants to be Bruce Springsteen. I am sure, based on the comments’ inherent patronizing tone, that Bruce is happy being the Boss. Perhaps Billy Joel’s fans see them as equivocal. But they are not.

Yesterday I was in the car with my daughter. There was a slow-burn R&B ballad on our local Top 40 station. It sounded good. Good for Top 40. Hell, good for music. Had to be Bruno Mars. Maybe he wrote some bullshit cash-grab love groove for the new Insurgent movie or something. (I hate those movies. I’ve only seen 1/2 of the first. I hate them both. This information is relevant, I promise).

“This is pretty good,” I said.

My daughter was in the passenger seat. “It’s Ed Sheeran.”

We found something else to listen to.

This is a personal problem, I am aware. Billy Joel cannot not be Billy Joel. As much as he really, really wants to (Seriously, has any other major recording artist seemed so uncomfortable with being who he is? Maybe Garth Brooks. It almost feels like there is some sort of Quantum Leap thing going on and it’s actually Scott Bakula’s character inside Billy Joel’s body for most of the clips I’ve seen him in. He seems to always be asserting about how he’s a badass, but his hangdog expression…I can’t…I have to stop…this is another essay).

Ed Sheeran can’t not be Ed Sheeran.

Remember when you first heard “Blurred Lines”? Before the litigation? Before you got the creeps when you realized what it was about? Most importantly, before you realized it was by Robin Fucking Thicke? Don’t you wish you could have that back?

Of course, the enlightened thing to do would be to enjoy the song for what it is, give credit to the creator, and move on with my life. It’s three minutes, right? I often tell my students that life’s too short to feel guilty for what you read and watch. “Guilty Pleasure” is a bullshit dodge designed by hipper-than-thou’s to justify liking Train. It’s the musical equivalent of “hate-watching.” Own it, right?

“Guilty Pleasure” should be a term we apply to child pornography and dealing methamphetamine. It should not be something we apply to something as innocuous as a three-minute song on the radio.

But I am a hypocrite and I not only need to enjoy a song, I need to feel cool while I do it. And Billy Joel, Ed Sheeran, Train, Collective Soul, and James Blunt ( to name a few completely random examples I’ve totally never screamed along with in my car) do not make me feel cool. My wife justifiably accuses me of listening to essentially unlistenable shit as long as it’s by someone deemed artistically important, which is why I will subject myself to a full-length LP of Tom Waits throwing live chickens into a wood chipper before I’ll admit that I cranked “Jesse James” by Cher to full blast in my Kia minivan.

Novelist and Essayist Leslie Jamison wrote a piece on sentimentality: on spotting it, hating it, and avoiding it. Except, in her honest-to-a-fault fashion, she admitted that she could not really discern the manipulation. She did not understand how others, who apparently have a finer and more nuanced emotional instrument, were capable of dismissing some art as meritricious shit and lauding others as an honest emotional investment. Is it irony? Grit? Psychological complexity? What’s the fucking recipe?

And why are we (I) so invested in this idea of artistic authenticity, especially when most of the criticism is just short-sighted, self-deluding, goggled justifications for trying to feel cool? Why con’t I just listen and like?

Because I am pretentious and want to feel better than other people. I want to feel informed. And I’m insecure on how to do that so I swipe great big armloads of hip, critic-flavored rhetorical jabs (multi-influenced, emotionally searing, swagger, Big Star affiliated,etc.) and use them like ninja throwing stars.

And let’s not even get into the fact that the only artists I’ve mentioned (with the possible exception of Cher) are male. So Sad.

And so we return to music. I’m cutting out a lot of the reasons people dismiss musicians, of course: charges of selling out, over-popularity, media saturation, creative switchbacks and ox-bows, general R.-Kelly-Level-whackadoo extracurriculars. I want to focus on the fact that if a song sounds good to my ear holes, and makes me happy, why do I need to vet it like it’s running for office?

Who is this? Who? One Direction? Turn that shit off. (Except, of course, when I’m by myself. Story of my Life.)

 

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Phineas Gage, Gauging Time

Fun exploration of common phenomenon!

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F Word

My son plays Scribblenauts, this game where you write a word and the cartoon equivalent appears on the screen.  He can battle dragons and zombies, etc.  The game has a remarkable and terrifying vocabulary server, so you type things like “serial killer” or “pedophile” and they appear onscreen, ready to wreak havoc.  Tonight he made a trash can and then trash to throw in it.  He’s prosaic.  I helped him type “paper” and ” tin can” but he wanted “fish skeleton”‘, which pleased me, because it’s nice to know that cartoons still stick to the requisite trash can contents they did when I was a kid. No one has actually seen a fish skeleton in a trashcan, just like we’ve never seen someone carrying a bag of groceries from the market that has a baguette and a head of romaine sticking out the top, even though that’s what everyone in the movies buys, only and always.  Scribblenauts, impossibly, does not have a fish skeleton within its matrix, so it dumped a human skeleton on the screen.  My son threw it in the trash and felt it was a reasonable substitute.

Anyway, I got cussed out at work today in the best way possible.  I don’t normally talk about work, because I don’t want to be unemployed, but today was fun, so I’ll hope for the best.  I was checking my mail during first period and a student walked by, looked at me, and as calmly as she’d be if she was checking the weather said ” I hate the people in the fucking office.”

I said that was too bad because that was where we were going.

She disagreed.

“I’m not fucking going there.”

Twice, so she so was.

“You can’t just say that and go.  Come one.”

And it began.  She looked at me and said “Fuckety-fuck-de-fuckety-fuck-fuck-fuck.”

Earlier in the week, I’d overheard this kid tell another student that it was “Noon-forty,” so I wasn’t really sure what I was dealing with (fun fact, it was actually 10:30 at that point…).  She was walking away.

“What’s your name?” I asked, and I prayed she would say it, knew she would say it.

“My name’s Fuckety Fuck.”

Hallelujah.

Never did catch her, but she cussed out her first period teacher and he brought her in.

Apparently this is a regular thing.  I never caught her name, but at least I know what she likes to be called.

Monday.

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Heard: 8/5/13

The Civil Wars: Their new album is an improvement over their last, as far as I’m concerned.  Same pretty harmonies, same sad balladry, but there’s so more oomph here, it’s harder, faster (those are relative terms–we’re still talking hipster-country here).  Word is the two principals are on the outs and have been for a awhile.  I thought they were a couple, actually.  They’re not, so the bonds of state and god aren’t present to keep them together.  Oh well, so maybe this is it.  It’s not Shoot Out the Lights, but it’s pretty good.

My favorite new band of the year is The Lone Bellow, who I listened to once in January, didn’t like because I’m a moron (most albums I really like are those I dismiss initially) but kept on my iPod until shuffle convinced me to give them another chance.  Good job, iPod shuffle!  They sound like Fleetwood Mac if Fleetwood Mac grew up in NYC, learned to love bluegrass and western swing, threw all their glitter off an overpass and replaced it with grit and sand.  Does that make sense?  Who cares!

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=lone+bellow+green+eyes+and+a+heart+of+gold&oq=Lone+Bellow+&gs_l=youtube.3.2.0l10.185445.189018.0.195913.14.11.0.3.3.0.199.1146.4j7.11.0…0.0…1ac.1.11.youtube.CVJGnWVnwLY

Also listening to:

Daft Punk

Chris Young: Neon

Kanye West: Yeezus

Kasey Chambers: Same Trailer, Different Park

Also, even though I think Prince could’ve written “Blurred Lines” during a particularly productive dump in say, 1986 (around Sign O’ the Times), it’s still a lot of fun.  Can’t get behind Robin Thicke.  He could shit gold bricks and the cure for cancer and I’d still think he looked like a jerk.  Hate the sinner, not the sin?

Tomorrow I will try CrossFit at 8AM.  I’ll report back, if I don’t chicken out.  I’m also going to try to include a recipe each week.  This week will be Hungarian Wild Mushroom Goulash!  My wife and kids will be so pleased.  I can already see their smiles…

I may try some Korean cooking too.  Since I haven’t eaten authentic (or even Ohio-based, pseudo-authentic) Korean food, I imagine the results will be similar to my first experience with Thai Cooking–it will be delicious because I know no better.  Ah, ignorance: you are the last true friend a man has.

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Read: August 4, 2013

Deliverance by James Dickey:

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I’ve circled this for a awhile, but figured I’d never actually read it.  I knew the story, though I’ve never seen the film. 

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I expected it to be pompous and full of hot air, and it is, with all the trappings of your typical manly survival narrative a la “…Francis Macomber” or Deer Hunter.  However, I didn’t expect Dickey’s novel to be a page-turner.  I assumed I’d pick at it for a few weeks and finally finished it, but a few spare hours later I was halfway done, and I stayed up until early morning polishing it off last Sunday.  It’s rare that a book with a reputation still has the power to carry one along like the best trash does, but there you go. 

 Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison:

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Another book by an unrepentant man’s man.  After this week I’d be surprised if I don’t have double the chest hair and three times the pubes.  Three novellas in this one, including the title story.  I saw the movie twenty years ago, in small theater in Bowling Green while I was visiting my wife (then girlfriend) at college.  I remember mainly Brad Pitt’s hair (extraordinary) and Anthony Hopkins’s strange gargle of a voice after his character’s stroke. 

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The story is hogwash, honestly, but I read that Harrison’s work should be taken seriously, so I dipped a toe.  “Legends…”  is the weakest of the three.  The first, “Revenge”, was made into a film with Kevin Costner and Madeline Stowe, but I never saw it.  It’s fun, fun, fun.  Bloody and sexy and full of Mexican sand and long comma-less sentences.  The second story, “The Man Who Gave Up his Name” is surprising, in that it’s a gentle story about lost suburban love, acute and affecting and a bit like the parts of John Irving that aren’t about bears, wrestling, and/or missing body parts.

Also Read:

The Map that Changed the World by Simon Winchester

The Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard

Dracula by Bram Stoker

The Origin of Satan by Elaine Pagels

The Son by Phillipp Meyer

Nos482 by Joe Hill

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

I’m going to try CrossFit this week, so this may be my last post.  If I make it, I’ll report back.

 

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Seen (August 3, 2013)

Seen:

Mud:

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For all the good I see in Jeff Nichols’s work, I can’t shake the fact that he doesn’t have a whole lot to say.  Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter were both expertly made and benefitted from Michael Shannon, who’s in Mud as well, in the kind of role Harvey Keitel got relegated to when Scorsese discovered Robert DeNiro (which is not to compare Scorsese and Nichols). 

 Perhaps it’s too much to expect that when a good story is told well, and the flyover states are represented as Nichols has, that something more than that is needed to really set a film apart.  He gets a great performance from Matthew McConaughey, for example–as a wanted fugitive who lives in a boat in a tree (it’s not ridiculous in the film)–by surrounding him with southern myth and grotesques (old-testament-religioous toughs, mysterious loners, trashy-hot beauties) rather than ask McConaughey to do something he can’t (play something other than Matthew McConaughey).     

 Fun, smaller performances from Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard (wish he took a whack at the script), and Joe Don Baker.  Great supporting performances from Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson, and both little boys are excellent (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland).

 It’s basically a coming-of-age-on-the-Mississippi story.  The complications are simple, the psychology is careworn and predictable.  Compare the results to the work of David Gordon Green’s earlier work, specifically Undertow, to see what the film could have looked like.

 Orphan Black:

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 Tatiana Maslany plays seven different roles (clones) in the BBC series.  She’s terrific–you can tell who’s who from her walk–and so’s the show.  

 So, clones.  Not a huge fan.  I guess I understand the uncanny pull of seeing your twin and the inherent complications about identity, etc. that would provide, but those are not necessarily complications I find all that interesting.  I really start to claw the walls when the scientific morality is debated–responsibility towards the clone created, what makes a human, what is consciousness. 

 Holy shit, get a room.

 The good news, for me, is that this show wears the philosophical ramifications of playing God lightly, and functions mostly as a kickass action series, the core mythology functioning mostly as a way of exploring the characters and driving the plot forward.

 I don’t know why I wanted more challenge from Mud and am happy with less from Orphan Black.  Oh well.

 Also watching:

 The Bridge

Dexter

The Killing

Naked and Afraid (watching muddy, bare asses with my children is the most fun I’ve had this summer)

Ray Donovan

True Blood

 Breaking Bad starts in eight days.

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