Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

Just wishing everyone a safe New Year's Eve and a wonderful New Year in 2011!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Development of a Favorite Sports Team

It's no secret: I hate the New York Knicks.  I also hate Patrick Ewing, in particular (no surprise there).  Naturally, I have my favorite and preferred teams...but the funny thing is, there aren't very many teams that I dislike enough to root against; there are even fewer that I loathe with depthless abhorrence (see: New York Knicks and Philadelphia Phillies).  A recent conversation with my buddy Cosmo and pitcher Cliff Lee's decision to sign with the Phillies have made me reflect on just why I feel the way that I do about these teams and, specifically, how team preferences are born.

The first sports team that I ever knew anything about was the New York Mets.  My Dad is a Mets fan and my first baseball game, unsurprisingly, was a Mets game at Shea Stadium.  I've always looked up to my Dad and so it's no surprise that the Mets became my favorite baseball team.  The interesting thing here though is that my Dad's not a terribly huge sports fan (by comparison--some men live and die by their teams, wear various team paraphernalia throughout the year, and watch or attend games religiously) but his interest in the Mets was enough to get me on board.  Though I attended far more Yankees games with friends and family members than Mets games through the years, my dedication to the latter never wavered.

Speaking of the Yankees, you would think that I would hate them because I root for the Mets...but that's not how I roll (nor is it how I've rolled throughout the years).  I remember lying on my parents' loveseat in the living room in 1996 holding my breath as the ball sailed skyward with Charlie Hayes trailing beneath it, ultimately catching it and giving the Yankees their first World Series victory of my lifetime.  I was thrilled; it was the first post-season experience I can remember having and I'll never forget the buzz and excitement in the city and in school over the whole run that the Yankees had that year; my Dad wouldn't be caught dead rooting for the Yankees.

I've grown up in a kinder, gentler time of baseball fandom.  My Dad's generation (and that before his) employed an "us or them" mentality when it came to rooting for teams.  First of all, you rooted local--there was no question there.  Second, you had exactly three choices: you rooted for the Giants, you rooted for the Dodgers, or you rooted for the Yankees; that was IT!  In fact, many Mets fans became such solely because the Giants and Dodgers left town and they had no other choice (because once you went Giant or Dodger you NEVER ever went Yankee).

I've never been one to follow the crowd and I think that's what has led to my selection of favorite teams.  The Mets aside, I have quite the eclectic mix of preferred teams but I also have rational explanations for my selections.  Let's start with baseball.  I am a Mets fan who enjoys post-season baseball and thus I will root for the Yankees in October and November.  My favorite player growing up was Gary Carter because he looked like a character from my then-favorite show (Mark Lynn Baker from "Perfect Strangers"--it was probably just the curly hair).  The only team I can't stand in baseball is the Phillies; the only player, Jimmy Rollins.  He's an arrogant prick and he plays for a team that likes to think that they are the Yankees of the National League.  It's funny what one World Series run will do to a team, isn't it?

Football is next and is perhaps the most bizarre in terms of my preferred teams.  My favorite team is the Minnesota Vikings and has been since I was a kid.  The reason (as far as I remember) is because they were featured frequenly on the television show "Coach."  I don't remember what drew me to them, in particular, but I know that when I first started getting into football I rooted religiously for the Vikes.  My second favorite team is the Carolina Panthers, though my reasoning here is a little more disjointed.  See, as a kid, I was always a sucker for expansion teams; I thought it was the coolest thing when a new team would come into existence.  It's why I rooted for the Marlins and Rockies (I out grew it by the time the Rays and Diamondbacks came about), the Raptors and Grizzlies, and the Panthers and Jaguars.  Though I rooted for all of these teams, I wasn't necessarily a fan, per se, nor were they vaunted into my realm of least none except the Panthers.  That didn't happen until Jake Delhomme became their quarterback.  I loved the way he played and when they made their Super Bowl run in 2003/2004 and was crushed when they lost to the Patriots.  Interestingly enough, Jake Delhomme still holds the record for the longest past in Super Bowl history (85 yards) and has a plaque for it at the Hall of Fame in Canton.

My Dad has been a huge Denver Broncos fan for time out of mind.  John Elway will forever be my favorite quarterback and I have a special place in my heart for the Broncos.  Seeing them FINALLY win it all and my Dad's satisfaction as a result was a truly remarkable experience.  It was my first experience with having someone's "team" go all the way.  Though I obtained my gratification vicariously, it was still a thrilling experience nonetheless.

The only NFL team that I hate with a passion is the New York Giants.  I hate them almost as much as the Knicks...and for almost the exact same reasons (the similarities are eerie in their quantity and type).  I must first explain which teams are my favorites in the NBA as this will help set up the Knicks/Giants explanation.  I first got into basketball in 1995/1996.  Someone had told me of a player named Muggsy Bogues who was five-foot-three--the same height that I was at the time.  I couldn't believe that a player that short was able to play and have some degree of success in the NBA.  It gave my burgeoning hoop dreams new life; if he could do it, then maybe I could too!  Bogues played for the Charlotte Hornets and I became an instant fan of the team.  I liked the colors, the mascot, and, eventually, the other players (Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson, Dell Curry, and Glen Rice to name but a few). 

The first full season that I was into basketball (following it daily) was the 1996/1997 season.  The Hornets made the playoffs and I was stoked beyond belief.  They were favored to do well in the playoffs, finishing third in the Central Division behind Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks.  Things were looking great...until the playoffs started.  The Hornets' first-round matchup was with the Knicks...who swept them 3-0 to take the round.  I was crestfallen.  I had never had a team that I rooted for so fervently make it to the post-season (the Mets and Vikings had little in the way of sustained success between when I started rooting for them and that point in time). 

As I tried to soak it in I was stunned.  More than that I was crushed; the Knicks had ripped my heart out and stomped all over it with Patrick Ewing leading the way.  Then, something funny happened.  I broke out of my emotional coma and found that I was filled with rage--an unquenchable fire that demanded justice.  Enter the Miami Heat.  Aside from the Vikings, there is no other team that I root for with as much enthusiasm and dedication as I do than the Heat.  Anyway, at the time, my best friend was a big Knicks fan (he still supports them but not with nearly as much interest) and seeing his smug glee at the Knicks advancing made me want to see his team lose that much harder.  And not just lose but to be eviscerated--embarrassed and shamed off the court. 

Again...enter the Miami Heat.  From the very first moment of the Eastern Conference Semifinals I knew that Miami was going to be my team.  Stating the obvious, they were the next to face the Knicks and thus had the first chance to avenge the honor of my fallen Hornets.  Alonzo Mourning (a former Hornet) was on the Heat, which definitely helped me to like them more...and then there was Tim Hardaway.  At that point in time, basketball was becoming my life.  I was playing after I finished my homework every day, squeezing as much time in as I could.  By the time I got to high school I was playing anywhere from three to five hours a night during the week and then twelve to eighteen hours on the weekend (more than forty hours a week).  I would play in the rain, I would play in the snow, I would play in the dark.  I played hurt (I've shot more one-handed three points due to left wrist/elbow/shoulder injuries than I think anyone else alive!) and I've played sick.  I figured that, the more adverse the conditions, the better the challenge and the more I would benefit from the experience.  Playing in the dark helped me to perfect my jumpshot (if you can hit shots without seeing where the basket is then...)  Playing on ice and in the snow helped me to improve my balance and my shooting (couldn't really do much dribbling then!)

Basketball was a game that allowed me to focus all of my competitive energy and my perfectionism.  It didn't require me to have friends (of which I had relatively few growing up) or to rely on other people in general to play.  It didn't require much in the way of equipment (more than a few Christmas and birthday presents were basketballs simply because I wore them out so quickly).  As I said, it became my life and, consequently, it became my identity.  I began to collect basketball jerseys from every team and I remember my sophomore or junior year of high school wearing nothing but said jerseys for over a month: a different one every day (incidentally, I also wore shorts to school just about every day, winter included, because a) I knew I'd be playing basketball at some point during the day and b) the heat was so wickedly hot in school that if I wore pants I'd be sweating my brains out for the entire day.  My logic was as follows: I'd be outside for five or ten minutes waiting for the bus (which would be heated), another five walking from the stop to school, another five or ten waiting for the bus in the afternoon, and then another two minutes walking home.  A half an hour of possibly being cold versus six hours of definitely being hot?  It was a no-brainer).

Anyway, back to Miami.  Tim Hardaway was my idol in terms of my basketball game.  I wanted to shoot like him, pass like him, layup like him, and, most of all, dribble like him.  I've never been able to do the Killer Crossover ( ) quite like him...but it's serviceable.  So the Eastern Conference Semifinals start...and the Knicks win game one.  Then they go up a commanding three games to one going into game five...and that's when my identity as a Heat fan was soldered.  Anyone watching that series remembers the P.J. Brown/Charlie Ward fight that led to the controversial suspensions...and the Heat winning games five, six, and seven.  They beat the Knicks and took the Atlantic Division crown from them in Pat Riley's second year in Miami.  Did I mention that he left the Knicks for South Beach? 

I hope it still hurts, Knicks fans.

So for as much as I loved Tim Hardaway's game I hated Patrick Ewing's equally.  He had one of the ugliest jump shot forms in the history of basketball (ditto for free throws) and was as ungainly as they come.  Worse, he was revered by Knicks fans.  To this day I take no greater satisfaction from nearly anything in sports than I do from the fact that Ewing never won a ring.  In his defense though, the Knicks proved what a classless organization they are when they let him go rather than re-sign him despite his diminishing talents (like the Yankees with Jeter) or convince him to retire.  It's still odd seeing the big man in a Magic or Sonics uniform.

Anyway, back to the NFL.  So in 2000 the Vikings were flying high.  They had two PHENOMENAL talents in Daunte Culpepper (a QB bigger than a linebacker) and Randy Moss (arguably the greatest deep threat receiver in the history of the league).  This is without even mentioning Cris Carter and Gary Anderson. In 1998 the team had set some crazy offensive records and lost in the NFC Championship game because of some poor kicking.  The upside of that, though, was that the Denver Broncos won their second of two back-to-back championships and John Elway retired as a two-time champ and one-time Super Bowl MVP.   Things were going great...until the NFC Championship Game in 2000.  I had been crushed in '98 when the Vikings had a Super Bowl bid in their grasp but this was going to be the year they redeemed themselves.  After all, I had never watched my favorite team play in the big dance despite their having made four appearances historically.

So what happened in 2000?  The Giants beat them 41-0 only to go on and lose to the Ravens by an anemic 34-7.  I hated the sudden vociferous vocality of Giants fans and I hated the fact that a less talented team beat my esteemed Vikings.  Enter Eli Manning and further said trash talking by the Giants' fans.  I hated Eli's "Aw shucks" Goofie "GAWRSH!" speech and his equally inbred style of play.  Somehow, though, despite his awkward looking style of play, Manning managed to complete passes and have success (Patrick Ewing anyone?)  Until 2007, though, his success was shortened in its scope.  Enter the undefeated New England Patriots.  I'm not a fan of their team but I AM a fan of record-setting statistical performances.  Needless to say, I wanted to see a 19-0 season.  The ending to that Super Bowl will haunt me forever.  Effin' Giants!

I bring up all of this because I now have a son who, presumably, will be into sports as he grows up.  I am excited because I developed such a strong interest in athletics without necessarily having that interest fostered by my Dad.  My hope, then, is that Timmy will be an even bigger sports fan than me simply because of my high level of enthusiasm.  I'm looking forward to seeing what sports and what teams he favors and how he comes to his own conclusions.  Will he be a Heat, Mets, and Vikings guy?  Part of me hopes so...but the bulk of me wants him to have his own teams to root for.  Hopefully it's not the Knicks, Phillies, and Giants...but if it is, at least it'll make those particular games that much more fun to watch!


Saturday, December 4, 2010

"A Serbian Film" or "A Nightmare"

I couldn't fall asleep last night and it was because of a movie I've never even seen; I can count the number of times that's happened to me on one finger. Don't get me wrong--I've had sleeping issues because of movies I've seen but not because of a movie I simply read about. The second recurring nightmare I had in my life when I was little was because of the movie "Troll" or, specifically, one scene from the movie. All I remember is a part of the film where a child's striped ball goes bouncing through an open door down a set of stairs into the basement. I don't remember if you see the Troll's eyes, hear it grunting, or actually see the thing but whatever it was it traumatized me. Cut me some slack--I was two or three years old and for someone of that age, THIS was pretty terrifying:

(The first recurring nightmare came courtesy of the 8 p.m. garbage pickup on Thursdays.  I was two or maybe even younger and I remember the loud screeching sound of the compactor going and the truck's engine, as well as seeing the red lights at the front of the truck that gave it a monstrous resemblance.)

Anyway, after "Troll" it was the movie "Leprechaun" (which, I suppose, is still in the ballpark in terms of creepiness).  Then I went through a freaked-out-by-aliens phase and watching the show "Sightings" with my parents on Friday or Saturday night would definitely render me a bit gun shy about going to sleep (I've never seen "Fire in the Sky" or "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and I don't plan to thank you very much!)  I don't remember any movies that caused me to lose sleep until (unexpectedly) 2002 when Heather and I saw "Signs" in the theater.  I know, I know--I'm probably one of only four people in the entire country that liked the movie...and the only one that got spooked by it.  I think it was more the loud, jarring, startling-in-your-face kind of scares that Shyamalan employed that got me jittery...and then the whole alien thing.  I heard that the reason many people disliked the movie was because the alien looked lame; I wouldn't know as I was looking in between my fingers at the time.  I just remember on the drive home expecting something to jump up from under the car onto the hood.  Maybe it was the thousand-or-so times I've watched the Twilight Zone finally catching up to me.  Who knows.

Next it was "American History X" that caused me a few sleepless nights in succession.  The bathroom scene freaked me out to an unbelievable degree--so much so that I didn't so much as jaywalk for a full week out of fear of winding up in prison.  True story. 

Ed Norton = Amazing.

Finally, I bugged out over "Paranormal Activity" last year.  I know it was hit or miss with people...but it was a mega-hit with me.  There were too many eerie similarities to things that have happened in my house with things that were going on in the film and when I tried to sleep that night all I kept picturing was some unseen demon dragging me out of my bed by my foot. out of the next FOUR nights I slept exactly once...and that was because I was in Atlantic City and imbibed a great deal.

So that brings us up to speed...sort of.  I still need to explain the whole movie-I-haven't-seen-keeping-me-awake thing.  It all happened last night while I was enjoying a North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (seriously--good stuff).  I popped online to check my email and I saw an interesting article in the newsfeed about a Jim Carrey movie I had never heard of.  I could see only a photo of Carrey and another male actor and the title of the film, "I Love You Phillip Morris."  I assumed from the picture that it was a movie about a gay romance but the title made me think it might be another scathing commentary on the cigarette industry.  I clicked on the link and it pulled up the article I will link you to in a moment.  Let me warn you careful what you read on that page and, more importantly, what you might be inclined to look up.  In fact, why not just skip the link for a moment and let me summarize what you'll find there and then you can decide for yourself what you investigate.

So the title of the article is "Most Controversial Movies of All Time: 10 Films That Truly Shocked Audiences."  Let me tell you first that this is a misnomer and is misleading.  Many of these films are nowhere near as controversial as some others that I will outline below but perhaps I am misreading the title.  Said title seems to imply that the list is of the Top 10 Most Controversial Films of all time...but there is a lack of a definite article at the beginning of the title, which might transform it into simply "Ten OF the Most Controversial Films of All Time."  I'll start with the list itself, which is as follows:

"A Serbian Film"
"Fahrenheit 9/11"
"The Passion of the Christ"
"Natural Born Killers"
"The Last Temptation Of Christ"
"Last Tango In Paris"
"Deep Throat"
"A Clockwork Orange"

I'm assuming that the Phillip Morris movie is included in the list...and I have to say I'm surprised that it is.  Homosexual relationships and romances are by no means part of the mainstream media...but neither is America like it was sixty years ago.  Modern American conservativism falls somewhere in between Iran (   Stay classy, Mahmoud!) and Ancient Rome ("Broscious!  Are you going to the orgy later???"  "Dude-icus!  Which one???  LOL  ::Ancient Roman High Five Ensues::); "Brokeback Mountain" was a big deal when it came out (lol) but perspectives have changed since then, so I'm surprised that the Phillip Morris movie would be considered controversial. if you're anything like me you've heard of eight of these films ("A Serbian Film" and "Salo" excluded) and that's a good thing.  From a purely critical standpoint, the list is notably lacking and repetitive in its themes (there are two films about Christ, for example, but none about racism or specific horrific socio-political events).  "Fahrenheit 9/11" isn't even a film (technically) but a documentary...and there are PLENTY of controversial documentaries that could be placed on a list of the top ten most controversial films.  "The Passion of the Christ" was definitely controversial in its own right, particularly because of its violence and its depictions of Jews as evil and money-hungry...but it became even more infamous because of its director's Anti-Semitic rants.

"Kids" is a movie you might not have seen...but you'd be missing out.  It's a disturbing film but it's definitely eye-opening.  The article misidentifies the plot, which I found irritating, but the general premise is the same.  "Natural Born Killers" is a movie I've never seen but I remember the firestorm it sparked when it came out.  It seems to be more about gratuitous violence than anything else and I remember people being disturbed by the sheer quantity of bloodshed in the film.  Again, I would recommend "American History X" for the list though for its level of violence or, more specifically, its style of violence  ("Put your fuckin' mouth on the curb"...yeah...just made me shudder thinking about it).  "Last Tango In Paris" seems to be on the list solely because it was controversial at the time...which could be said for any number of movies ("Psycho" anyone?)

So that leaves us with "Deep Throat," "A Clockwork Orange,"...and the other two.  "Deep Throat," again, is controversial because of the time it was released and the fact that it was a landmark film (as the article says, it turned the X rating into into X-Rated).  I would argue that the film "Caligula" is far more controversial than "Deep Throat" and it came out seven years later. 

Okay--a little note about "Caligula."  Someone told me about this movie a long time ago and said I should never, ever watch it.  Naturally, this inclined me to do so but at the time I had no way of seeing it and eventually I forgot about it.  When I got to college, I found that my friends shared in my general disposition towards gross things (being mostly unaffected or desensitized towards them).  We would often try to gross-out (or out-gross-out, technically) each other with ever-more shocking pictures or stories found on the Internet (even that had its limit though--the idea of a harlequin fetus still freaks me out to this day).  Somewhere along the way I remembered "Caligula" and tricked Heather into watching it with me.

Now, it should be noted that, on paper, "Caligula" sounds probably far worse than "A Clockwork Orange."  I saw part of the latter in my psychology class in undergrad and I found that to be far more disturbing.  I think it was the sense of realism (or perhaps it was real footage being used) of the sexual depravity of some of the scenes that really got under my skin.  With "Caligula," I feel that it was so kitschy and over-the-top that it detracted from what, on paper, sounds pretty horrendous.  It's considered an adult biographical film as well as epic pornography...but it's as unerotic as it gets.  I'm sure there are people who get their jollies from it...but that's a pretty creepy notion.  What also makes both "Caligula" and "A Clockwork Orange" creepy is the fact that they both star Malcolm McDowell!

So now that leaves us with two movies from the controversial list: "A Serbian Film" and "Salo."  Both seem innocuous enough...but not so much.  I read the article sections in order but I'm saving "A Serbian Film" for last for the purposes of my discussion.  Both films are disgusting and disturbing but "A Serbian Film" trumps "Salo" a million times over.

Anyway, regarding the latter, the full title of the movie is: Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.  It is based upon the literary work of the Marquis de Sade of the same name (The 120 Days of Sodom).  Without even getting remotely into what I read about the plot of the film (and, presumably of the novel as well), let this excerpt from the Wikipedia article about the book serve as a warning for anyone curious enough to look deeper into the details of the film:

"[The 120 Days of Sodom] tells the story of four wealthy male libertines who resolve to experience the ultimate sexual gratification in orgies. To do this, they seal themselves away for four months in an inaccessible castle with a harem of 46 victims, mostly young male and female teenagers, and engage four women brothel keepers to tell the stories of their lives and adventures. The women's narratives form an inspiration for the sexual abuse and torture of the victims, which gradually mounts in intensity and ends in their slaughter."

"The film focuses on four wealthy, corrupted fascist libertines in Benito Mussolini's Italy in 1944 who kidnap a total of eighteen teenage boys and girls and subject them to four months of extreme violence, sadism, sexual and mental torture. The film is noted for exploring the themes of political corruption, abuse of power, sadism, perversion, sexuality, and fascism."

The sheer violence of the film and its unforgiving filming approach has gotten it banned all over the place and is what renders it so controversial.  The fact that it is based upon a book mitigates the shock value somewhat...but it is still unbelievably hideous.  The fact that it serves as a social commentary (and an effective one at that, from those that have seen it: offers perhaps the only excusable reason for watching it.  Most people (to sum up the thrust of the comments) came away haunted, some to the point that they couldn't eat for an extended period of time and others to the point that they were unable to think of anything but what they had just seen.  Again, since this film is based upon a book and its existence serves to speak to some greater issue(s), it can be understood why someone would watch it...

...but "A Serbian Film"?  There is absolutely no excuse for something like this to exist let alone to have been filmed.  Thankfully, the Serbian government is investigating whether or not the film perpetrates crimes against sexual morals and engenders the endangerment of minors.  The blurb on the Most Controversial Movies list for the film reads as follows:

"Since 'A Serbian Film' debuted at the South by Southwest festival this March, the movie has managed to create a firestorm of controversy in every country it has been screened in. While director Aleksandar Radivojević and others claim the story's graphic depiction of rape, incest and murder is a metaphor for the brutality of the Serbian government, many critics have argued that it's actually a metaphor for morally indefensible torture porn. British authorities refused to allow the film to run in London, while Serbian authorities are currently investigating the movie on charges related to child endangerment."

I have heard stories about the brutality of the Serbian government, particularly in terms of ethnic cleansing, and thus I was curious about the "firestorm of controversy" that this film created.  I will admit, I glazed over the line that cited things of "graphic depiction," with my usual "how-bad-could-it-be?" perspective and looked on Wikipedia for more information about the film.  I started reading...and by then it was too late.

To say that I was horrified would be a gross understatement.  This film isn't just hideous and heinous, it's downright evil.  At the bottom of the article there are a few quotations of critical reviews of the film, which read as follows:

First: "The film was released to great controversy in terms of its graphic and often sexually explicit violence. Screenwriter Srdjan Spasojevic has responded to the controversy with "This is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government... It's about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotize you to do things you don’t want to do. You have to feel the violence to know what it’s about."

I have to say, having read the plot of the film (and given the "firestorm of controversy") I have to call Mr. Spasojevic out on his bullshit.  You want to film in black and white an apple sitting on a desk for four hours and tell me that your movie speaks to the ennui of the world or the fact that God abandoned us (both typical artsy bullshit themes) that's fine.  No one's getting hurt or mentally/emotionally scarred.  You take a puppy, cover it in gasoline, light it on fire, and play Christmas music in the background while it burns and tell me that your movie is symbolic of the treatment of refugees in some third world country...and you're starting to cross that line not only of acceptability but of believability as well (let it be said that Mr. Spasojevic has not done either of those things--they're examples I made up to illustrate my point).  But to film what he did in "A Serbian Film" and to then claim that "This is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government"?  It's inexcusable and it's fucking sick.  There are plenty of other ways of presenting such a diary.

The final two reviews read:

Scott Weinberg wrote "I think the film is tragic, sickening, disturbing, twisted, absurd, infuriated, and actually quite intelligent. There are those who will be unable (or unwilling) to decipher even the most basic of 'messages' buried within A Serbian Film, but I believe it's one of the most legitimately fascinating films I've ever seen. I admire and detest it at the same time. And I will never watch it again. Ever."

A more critical review came from Alison Willmore: "Movies can use transgressive topics and imagery toward great artistic resonance. They can also just use them for pure shock/novelty/boundary-pushing, which is where I'd group Serbian Film. That it comes from a country that's spent decades deep in violent conflict, civil unrest, corruption and ethnic tensions makes it tempting to read more into the film than I think it actually offers—ultimately, it has as much to say about its country of origin as Hostel does about America, which is a little, but nothing on the scale its title suggests."

Maybe its my sensitivity to the types of violent acts that are portrayed by the film or maybe it's simply the fact that I'm a parent now and have a different outlook on things.  Regardless, I found myself opting for another brew (Founders Breakfast Stout--even MORE incredible than the Rasputin!) after I finished reading the article, knowing that I was not going to sleep well, if at all, and hoping that the 8.30% ABV of the beer would help knock me out (it didn't).  Instead, I found myself tossing and turning, haunted by the images conjured up by the plot summary and, worse, by its closing phrase: "Start with the little one."

If you're of a sensitive disposition, please don't look this movie up; the purpose of my article was to exorcise the terrible, creepy feeling its summary gave me and to warn people about it.  If you think it won't bother you and you read the description or, even better, if you've seen the film (because I know I will never EVER watch this shit) I would love to know if you agree with Srdjan Spasojevic & Scott Weinberg that the film serves as a metaphor, or if you agree with Alison Willmore and myself that to view the film as anything but atrocious and diabolically repulsive is reading into it a bit too much.  Drop a comment and let me know.


I can't end this entry on such a negative, depressing note, so I'll conclude with an anecdote.  After reading the first paragraph or two of the description I thought of the movie "8mm" starring Nicholas Cage (naively, I thought that "A Serbian Film" was going to be similar in its scope and execution).  This morning, I thought of the film and its star again...and I was shocked by the progression that Nicholas Cage's acting career has taken.  To picture him in a film as dark as "8mm" and as villainous or violent characters in "Conair" and "Face/Off"...and then to compare those roles to his more recent endeavors (Disney's "National Treasure" and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" to name but two)'s quite a dichotomy.  This, in turn, made me think of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and his equal but opposite progression, going from films such as "The Game Plan," "Race to Witch Mountain," and "Tooth Fairy" to his latest movie "Faster."  It's as if the two actors are linked indelibly by some unseen bizarro universe connection causing one actor to take softer roles while the other toughens up.  I can only imagine what the middle ground would look like should both actors' careers reverse polarity!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Anger, Apathy, and Avoidance of Responsibility: The Disenfranchisement of the Modern American Adolescent

"I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."  --Tyler Durden in "Fight Club"

"The "battle against racism" takes precedence over personal responsibility, hard work, pursuing an education, and breeding children only when capable of assuming this responsibility.  Anger can become the enemy of success and of productivity.  Those who fan this anger create an emotional and psychological trap of weights and barriers."  --Larry Elder in Stupid Black Men: How To Play The Race Card--And Lose"

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
--Yoda in "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace"

Recently, I've found myself brooding on the state of our world and what it means for my son and his generation.  I reflected on my parents' generation and that of their parents and tried to juxtapose them with my own.  As it stands, my group--popularized as "Generation Y" or, perhaps more so, as "Millennials"--stands as a far cry from the idealized generations of years past.  I suppose it is habitual for generations to look back fondly on their primes and to view them as being some sort of golden era...but I'm beginning to wonder whether or not my group will be doing that.

Right now, many Millennials (and members of Generation X) are in the primes of their lives, myself included.  Though there are no set dates for when Generation Y starts and ends, it is generally accepted to be from somewhere in the middle of the 1970s up until the turn of the current century.  That means that the bulk of Millennials are in their twenties or thirties--in the midst of developing their careers and perhaps still pursuing higher education but likely leaving high school and their youths in the dust of the past.  Consequently, this also means that most of us are entering the time in our lives where we will be settling down--purchasing a home, getting married, and, perhaps, having children; Generation X members can say the same. In the case of the children of these two generations, though, I believe that there is cause for concern as the maturity level and overall outlook on life of Millennials and Gen Xers is often called into question.  More on that in a little bit though.

An important point to note about Millennials, though, is that the group, as noted above, includes children born around and into the early 2000s, which means that children born in the 1990s are considered to be members of the generational group.  I'm making this distinction because of something that happened yesterday in the neighborhood that I grew up in.  Throughout the day yesterday (a day that is meant to be fun and memorable for children) a large group of neighborhood kids engaged in what amounts to inexcusable and inexplicable vandalism, causing property damage as well as physical damage to passersby and sparking a firestorm of angry commentary on the local website as well as on Facebook where said site has been linked to numerous times (to view the article in question, click here:  )

Halloween in Gerritsen Beach has grown steadily more violent and disgusting over the past fifteen to twenty years.  When I was a kid the worst that would happen would be kids attacking each other with shaving cream and eggs, and toilet papering local homes.  Often this behavior wouldn't begin until after sundown, meaning that most of the little kids would be done with their trick-or-treating.  Though I did not engage in the aforementioned sophomoric behavior and would not deign to deem it acceptable now, it can and should be said that it was done, to some degree, with discretion; even the "punks" who engaged in such behavior had some semblance of respect for other people and their property.  Over time, though, the behavior grew more outlandish, confrontational, and, in some aspects, dangerous.  One of the last years I remember going trick-or-treating, people wound up cutting their day short because of three assholes going around with Supersoaker waterguns filled with a mixture of vinegar, urine, and eggs.  It would have been bad enough if they were squirting only each other...but they weren't.  Kids and their parents were getting caught in the scrum caused by three idiots who served to ruin what should be an exciting and safe day for small children--not a day for asshole teenagers to run around causing trouble.

Since then (the early 1990s), things have grown progressively worse as the interlopers have grown increasingly younger and more brazen in their antics.  One recent year while I was working in Manhattan I had the unfortunate responsibility of working on Halloween.  While living in Gerritsen Beach I would often use one of my vacation days on Halloween simply to avoid having to go out of the house--things had gotten that bad.  During this year, though (maybe 2005 or '06) I had to work somewhat late and took the express bus home.  There was no WAY I was going to take the train and the city bus knowing that, in then-recent years, kids had taken to egging passing buses and, on occasion, exiting passengers.  Unfortunately, though, (and unbeknownst to me) the craziness crescendoed and reached a new peak that year.  The MTA had had their buses vandalized by the kids as the drivers performed their routes up and down Gerritsen Avenue.  The sides of the buses were plastered with eggs, shaving cream, and God only knows what else...but many of the buses had their windshields and side windows destroyed with rocks and other projectiles.  The result?  The MTA was terminating service at Avenue U (more than a mile from my house in Gerritsen Beach) and refused to go any further until late on November 1st.  That meant that I would then have to walk through the nonsense on my way home.  It was like a ghost town and a war zone--the entire avenue was COVERED with evidence of these kids' "good time."  Though I was nervous (the MTA wouldn't even go in there!) I refused to be afraid in my own neighborhood and I walked straight down Gerritsen Avenue until I reached my block.  Luckily, I made it home without incident...but there were definitely tons of kids hiding in the shadows eyeballing me.  I saw a few cars get egged with the drivers stopping, opening their doors, and then thinking better of it and hauling ass out of there.

This year, it would appear, things have reached an absolute low point.  Though I provided the link above, I would like to quote some of what was written (courtesy of

"50+ teens held their ground at Gerritsen and Florence Avenues and Seba Avenue Park for a better part of Halloween. They formed a firing line on both sides of Gerritsen Avenue. They were throwing the eggs, shaving cream cans, potatoes, rocks, at anything that drove past and anyone who dared to confront them. They even started throwing eggs at people, parents with young children and strollers. One parent said “I saw them jump a delivery car with kids banging on it, eggs getting slammed into it and some ran on the car”

"An older man in his late 60′s was driving along Gerritsen Avenue when his car was hit by eggs, when he exited the vehicle he was pelted by dozens of eggs, rocks were thrown, chucks of brick, and someone tossed a hammer. Parents and community members stepped in to protect this man and started to chase the kids to away."

In thinking about these events the only conclusion that I can draw is that these kids have no boundaries.  People were quick to blame the police for not showing up...but what about the parents who could have prevented the whole thing simply by knowing where their kids were going, what they were going to be doing, and telling them, "NO!"  Many parents of my generation (and, more so, Generation X) are so obsessed with being their kids' friends that they lose sight of the fact that their job is to be their PARENTS first.  And, yes, being a parent includes being a disciplinarian!  Too many of these parents are so afraid of damaging their fragile children by saying "No"--so afraid of causing them emotional distress and mental discomfort that they concede immediately.  Watch when you go to Toys-R-Us or some other toy store: it's the yuppie parents (more often than not) with the kids throwing tantrums.  As soon as they realize that there are numerous pairs of eyes staring at them (and fearing for the emotional well-being of their children!) the parents will give in and get the kid whatever they want...but what is it that the kid wants?  In fact, what were they saying in the first place?  Quite often it's disrespectful and fresh; you would think that the kids are the parents and vice versa.  I've heard kids call their parents dummies, idiots, jerks, in a few cases assholes, and demand that they get what they want.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, in quiet, measured tones, the parents attempt to explain to their children that they got a toy yesterday...but it often falls on deaf ears.  The kids wind up with the toy(s) and the parents walk away with their peace-of-mind intact...but look again.  What else are the kids and parents coming away with?

The Kids
  1. A lack of value for the material items that they covet (why care about a toy when they will simply get a new one at will?)
  2. An understanding that, if they bitch about it enough, they will get it.
  3. A lack of understanding of boundaries, of the value of money, and proper child/parent roles.
  4. The belief that respect is something to be found in the dictionary--an antiquated notion that worked for past generations but not for theirs.
The Parents
  1. A kid (or kids) who do not have the skills necessary to cope with being told "No."
  2. A kid who fails to respect others AND themselves and who will go on to become an adult who does the same thing.
  3. A failure to understand that one's children need to be taught the value of proper etiquette and behavior in public (and probably in private as well).
  4. The knowledge that will come later that they are disserving their children by failing to prepare them adequately for adult life and the fact that, at that stage of their lives, the rest of society will not coddle and protect them. the kids have no what?  What does that mean?  In order to answer that, you have to look at both sides of the equation: cause and effect.  The effect will be a generation of disaffected adults who cannot handle most employment situations (i.e. working for and with others); who have little respect and regard for the law, themselves, and others; and, ultimately, who will propagate their own chaotic lifestyles in the generations that they will go on to engender.  The cause, though, comes from a generation of adults who were once children with issues with their parents.  In many cases, members of Generation X (born in the 1960s and 1970s) resented the discipline that was administered to them (be it physical or otherwise) and their reaction has been, in many cases, to respond with an equal but opposite lack of discipline with their kids; the result is a generation of parents who are more concerned with being their kids' friends than their parents.  They so want to be liked by their children that they refuse to say no, to punish their children, or to otherwise set those boundaries.

I've witnessed many of these parents' impotent attempts at disciplining their kids.  The child might be doing something destructive or simply something that they shouldn't be doing and the parents will turn around and say "No, don't do X/Y/Z!"  But that's it.  The kid goes right back to doing it...and the parents either ignore it or just say "No!" again.  There's no real discipline and the kids know that if they keep doing it, eventually they will be left alone.  If the parent attempts to remove the child from the situation, the child pitches a tantrum and, eventually, will be allowed to do whatever it is that they were told not to.

The parenting lessons that have been handed down through recent generations seem to be falling on deaf ears nowadays.  Modern parents are so yuppified that all they care about is whether or not their little ones are meeting the proper percentiles and that they are provided with the "best" (i.e. most expensive/trendiest) toys and learning tools to help them develop.  Granted, the intent with the latter is noble...but how much of a substitute for actual hands-on parenting can these gadgets and DVD programs be?  This generation of parents is moving increasingly away from personal interaction and replacing it with technology.  Many yuppie parents fail to sit down and have dinner with their kids, asking them how their days have been and what's going on in their lives.  Instead, they believe that they are "connected" to their kids' lives simply because they text or email during the day.


I think this generation of parents have their priorities out of whack.  Everything's been handed to them (us?) on a silver platter.  Look back at the opening quotation from Fight Club--it speaks directly to this very generation:

"I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off." --Tyler Durden in "Fight Club"

Gone are the days where one would take a job with a single company and work there for forty years, taking pride in the association with said company or corporation.  Here are the days where the work itself (and, inherently, its intrinsic value) is secondary to whatever the money earned can buy.  Our parents and their parents worked for everything they earned.  They had their Great Wars--wars that, for all their horror, helped to define their generations and to give America a single, unified identity.  What do we have?  The Gulf War?  The War in Iraq?  Wars that were (and are still) motivated by money-lust--not some idyllic moral gesture; OUR wars are representative of the things that OUR generation value: the materialistic, the unspiritual, and the unfulfilling.

We HAVE been raised on television and the next generation will be as well...only it seems that they will be raised by television and computers.  It's all about instant gratification and staying in step with whatever nonsense material trend is currently in place.  It's no longer simply about who is wearing designer clothes and sneakers but who has the newest iPhone, who is on Twitter, and what reality shows you watch.  Instead of television abounding with programs showing wholesome families that are reflective of the ideals we once held, it glorifies the likes of Mike "The Situation" and his ilk--of rappers, athletes, and celebrities who have had the good fortune of falling into money and being able to live a life of ease that MOST OF US WILL NEVER HAVE but that the next generation yearns for.

I am not a Luddite.  I am not a sentimentalist, yearning for the glory days of olde.  I'm not a bitter old man ruing the death of a golden age.  I'm twenty-seven going on twenty-eight and I am aware.  My generation and its predecessor are fucking up a streak that began over a hundred years ago of social, moral, and personal improvement.  Our generations are content to coast--to loaf and to rely on the hard work and effort of the past hundred years.  And when these generations are faced with the hard evidence, down the line, that we ruined everything that had been worked for...what will the reaction be?  The same that it has for everything else: a shrug of the shoulders, a toss of the hands skyward, and a facial expression that says "Not my problem--let someone else fix it." 

Millennials, Gen-Xers, and their children were and will be raised based upon the belief that they will be rock gods and celebrities and that they don't need to work hard for anything because, eventually, it will be given to them.  We are a generation that is allergic to building up a sweat--to toiling endlessly not merely for the ends we seek to achieve but simply for the experience of working hard.  We live in a world where yuppie pretension takes precedence over those who value the mores their parents tried to instill in them.  Now, these "parents" are obsessed with preserving the fragile egos of their disenfranchised children.  No longer do kids compete for first place; instead, everyone gets a trophy for competing.  There are no losers--no one who fails--because EVERYONE IS A WINNER!!

That is...until these kids get into the real world.  The children of Generation X adults are growing up in a world where they are told constantly that they are great and that they're special and unique (just like every other snowflake).  Unfortunately, the impact on these kids, particularly those heading for corporate America, is that they are grossly unprepared for dealing with the rigors of adult employment and socializing.  Suddenly, these kids who have been told throughout their entire lives that they are winners and that whatever effort they extend is "great" are now facing the fact that their Powerpoint presentation sucked or that their writing abilities leave much to be desired.  A generation of children needing constant coddling and "Attaboys/girls" are crumbling beneath the pressure of high-stress work environments.  This is to say nothing of the kids who have no boundaries!

We are cultivating a generation of children brought up on Baby Einstein, Baby and Me Yoga classes, baby harnesses to help baby walk without the fear of falling, baby wipe warmers to protect children from the harsh chilly temperatures of ordinary wipes, and any other number of wussifying, demeaning things.  These kids are being taught to fear everything (Purell, Purell, Purell!  It's a dangerous world out there!), to use their "Inside Voices" when they should instead be using their common sense as to when to be boisterous and when simply to shut the fuck up, and to rely on pills to fix any and every ailment that they might or might not even have.  The message is, "Protect, protect, protect!" but, in reality, all that these kids are being sheltered from is the chance to develop the necessary coping skills to succeed in the modern American adult spectrum.  We are retarding their abilities to grow morally, emotionally, and socially and are shielding them from failure instead of teaching them how to deal with it and how to accept it as a natural part of life without it crushing their egos.
So what do we wind up with?  Four generations (Generation X, Millennials, and the children of both groups) who are incapable of understanding the meaning of accountability and respect.  People who are quick to point fingers and to sue instead of accepting their mistakes as their own and learning from them.  The kids, in particular, are finding themselves frustrated when they reach adulthood because they are incapable of interacting with others who are far more stable, responsible, and reliable than they are.  The result of this is unrelenting anger and thus more finger pointing. 

As quoted above, Larry Elder states that "Anger can become the enemy of success and of productivity.  Those who fan this anger create an emotional and psychological trap of weights and barriers."  Though Mr. Elder was referencing racism and those who rely on playing the race card and stirring up racial-anger and mistrust, I believe that his point is applicable here as well.  Instead of fostering the development of strong moral compasses in their children, many Generation X parents choose instead to illustrate the point that you can get away with things and not have to accept responsibility simply by blaming others.  The result is an angry group of children-turned-adults who do not know how to cope with being told no, with being told that they are not good enough, and, in many cases, with not knowing how to deal with people with differing opinions, cultural/religious backgrounds, and global perspectives. 

There is a battle waging on a public forum as we speak about the aforementioned Halloween incidents in Gerritsen Beach.  The warring factions are mostly divided down this line: one side understands that these kids need to be held accountable for their actions, and the other side continues to ignore the inexcusable nature of the behavior and chooses instead to justify, however loosely, the unjustifiable behavior.  The latter, when faced with the irrefutable facts of the episode respond in the same fashion that SO MANY people who are incapable of accepting blame and responsibility do: "Yeah but."  It's all "Yeah but we did this as kids" or "Yeah but they're just kids being kids," ignoring completely the fact that what occurred was dangerous, violent, destructive, disruptive, and downright reprehensible.  But rather than face this with maturity and say "You know what?  These kids need to be held accountable for their actions" they are attacking anyone who disagrees with them and, in particular, the brave individual who brought the issue into the public forum in the first place.

We are dealing with a generation (or two) that is long on attributing blame but short on offering applicable solutions to America's woes.  Their children are growing into individuals who are mirroring the behavior of their parents and echoing the very same attitudes of avoiding hard work and accepting responsibility.  The next generations are angry...but they don't understand why.  Their parents are afraid of losing their admiration and, instead of parenting them, they allow them free reign, thus rendering them incapable of developing into respectable adolescents and adults.  Said adolescents and adults grow angry because of their inabilities to cope with the world they live in and, in like fashion, they turn to hate: they hate things they don't understand, things that are different from them, and things that tell them no or force them to hold themselves accountable.  As a result, we all suffer.

I'd like to close with what I believe is a very germane adaptation of a pamphlet that was written by Nannie Burroughs around the beginning of the twentieth century.  I came across this list of "12 Things The Negro Must Do For Himself" in Larry Elder's book and found it salient to my argument about the generational issues that we are currently encountering.  The paraphrased/adapted text below has been inspired by the original literature found on the website "Black Men In"  courtesy of founder and publisher Gary Johnson, taken from the original literature written by Ms. Burroughs.

*CHANGED on 11/3/10*

In the interest of creating a stronger connection between my overarching argument and the list, I have decided to paraphrase Ms. Burroughs in bullet-point fashion with the hopes that the parallels between her original intent and my own will grow both clearer and stronger.  Again, for the original text please consult the link above.

Things that the modern adolescent (and future generations of youths) should take into consideration as the develop their personalities and individual perspectives on life:

1.  You should put as much effort into your education and into developing honorable character traits as you do your pursuit of earning money to fritter away on clothes, food, and anything else that is not a necessity in your life.

2.  God helps those who help themselves.  Stop relying on the hard work of others (your parents, your peers, whoever!) and get your own hands dirty.  Stop making excuses for yourself when the work gets too hard or you are forced to do things that you are not accustomed to doing.  Hard work builds character--something that is essential in your adulthood.
3. Strive to improve your surroundings, including your OWN personal appearance.  Have enough respect to throw your trash away in a garbage can instead of throwing it in the street with the expectation that someone else will clean up your mess.  And dress in a respectable fashion and in a venue-appropriate manner.  If your pants don't fit--wear a belt to keep them up, ESPECIALLY if you're in a place of worship or around your elders.  It doesn't make you look cool--it makes you seem incapable of dressing yourself.
4. Being a bigot doesn't make you cool--it makes you look ignorant and ill-informed.  Most hatred of other races and religions come from a lack of understanding or a fear of what is different.  In too many cases nowadays though it comes simply from heredity; it is passed down as if it is a family tradition with no explanation behind the racist or otherwise offensive sentiments.  Think for yourself kids!  Get out there and see more of the world and of your own country.  You'll be surprised to find that people are just like you despite the superficial differences of color and customs.
5. Take pride in your work!  If you're going to be the french fry guy at McDonald's then be the best fry guy the world has ever seen!  If you're submitting an essay for your English class, make it the best English essay you've ever written!  Your work is a reflection not only of yourself and your abilities but of your level of self-respect and the value that you place on your work.  Make sure that people see that you care and make sure that you actually DO care about what you do!
6.  Learn to respect public places and to act appropriately.  Be loud when it's warranted and be quiet when it's not.  Don't do anything that you wouldn't want to see done to your mother, father, younger sibling, or whoever you care about.

This is far from a comprehensive list but it's a start.  I intend to do a separate post on a collection of moral and ethical guidelines that I believe are worth disseminating to today's youth.  Thanks to Melissa DeJoseph for her input regarding the conclusion of the original blog entry.  Please view our comment conversation for an addendum to the discussion this blog attempts to engage in--it furthers many points and raises a few I should have included initially.

Monday, October 18, 2010

An Encounter

Part of why I enjoyed the show "Seinfeld" as much as I did during its nine-season run is because of the parallels I found between the lives of the characters and my own.  I speak in particular of the random occurrences and coincidences that served as the comedic cornerstone of many episodes (and, truthfully, of my life as well).  I seem to be a magnet for these sort of experiences, as my wife and many of my friends can attest, if for nothing other than the sheer quantity of episodes they have been a part of or have been privy to.  It seems as if I cannot pass a single day without having at least one random and often unintentionally humorous moment.  Something as seemingly innocuous as a trip to the grocery store has the potential to turn itself into a blog entry with one chance encounter.

How was that for a segue?

So in my last post I drew a parallel between babies and puppies, referencing, in particular, their seemingly fail-safe ability to spark a conversation with someone, usually a woman.  The traditional example is of a man walking in a park with a puppy and drawing the attention of numerous nubile young women.  They will approach the man and comment on how adorable the puppy is, thus opening the potential for conversation, either flirtatious or casual.  I can confirm the validity of the latter type of this example from personal experience.  I had taken my sister's unbelievably cute pure-bred Jack Russell terrier to the park one summer afternoon.  Heather had jokingly warned me that I better not talk to any of the pretty girls who would likely come up to me wanting to pet the cute puppy.  Having never owned a dog and obtaining only cursory knowledge of the supposed allure of a puppy, I rolled my eyes and headed out. 

My plan had been to walk to the park near the neighborhood elementary school, then up the block that leads to the larger public park a half mile away.  The former park was literally a two minute walk from my sister's house.  Needless to say, a half hour after leaving my sister's place, I was still in the elementary school park.  I had gotten stopped by a total of eight women (many of whom were walking dogs, themselves) and engaged in conversation.  Much of the dialogue was about how cute Dylan was, what breed was he, how old he was, and other mundane bits of information.  Whether or not any of the women flirted with me was lost on me; I was somewhat oblivious to such moments as I was spoken for and did not actively pursue any such conversation...much like today.

But was unequivocal.  I was hit on and it was all because of Timmy.

"Of course!" you say.  "He's a cute baby--what woman wouldn't come up to you and say something or strike up a conversation?"

And I would say: who said anything about a woman?

That's right.  I mean exactly that.

Now, before I continue, I need to make reference to the photograph that I posted at the beginning of this entry.  In order for you to appreciate fully what is to come next you need to know not only who Leon Phelps is but specifically how he speaks.  So if you find yourself unfamiliar with his body of work, I can find no better sample of his elocution than this:

It happened after I collected my cold cuts from the deli section of the local supermarket.  I had Timmy in his jogging stroller (incredible maneuverability--indispensable in stores with smaller aisles) and found myself stuck behind an octogenarian right next to the frozen treats freezer.  Ordinarily, my Aries nature would kick in and I would seek the quickest route around him and storm past, angered that he would deign to rob my life of precious seconds by making me wait.  Today, though, I found myself in a calm enough mood and decided to wait it out.  He was asking a store employee where something was.  I don't remember what it was but I knew it was on the other side of the store and that he would probably get his ass in gear sooner than later so as to reach and acquire said foodstuff before Thanksgiving.

Needless to say, he got his cart a-rolling and I pressed forward two more aisles until I reached the one with the milk and bread.  Unfortunately, there was a traffic jam of sorts as a woman with a shopping cart blocked most of the aisle and another one attempted to pass her from behind.  There was also an employee stocking the dairy and juice case.  I found myself at this impasse and knew that I could not make it down to where the milk was at other end of the aisle with my gigundous stroller and said shopping carts needing the same space.

And that's when it happened.

"Aww!  Look at him!"

I swear to you--he sounded EXACTLY like the man in the video above.  Same lispiness and underlying sexual angst and virile self-assuredness.  Yeah...not what you want to hear when that someone is speaking to you.

I look up and find myself speechless.  (Please understand that this is an occurrence rarer than a blue moon and a total solar eclipse happening in the same month...or Paula Abdul and Lindsay Lohan being sober simultaneously.)

The guy looks like a scrawny Lou Gossett Jr. wearing sunglasses...inside a supermarket.  He's wearing snake-skin boots...a really flashy, blinged out white hoodie (unzipped), and a blue shirt...that is completely open.  Yeah...

Then he speaks again.

"Aww...I bet he just zips around in that thing thurr--am I right?"

I say yes and note that the stroller is great for getting around supermarkets.  I don't know what else to say.  I try to escape by pressing forward down the aisle but the women are blocking the way with their carts.  I have no choice.  I back up.  Which spurs the snake-skin boot adorned troubadour to continue his conversation.

"That must be great for joggin' and such..."

And then it happens.

"...and for workin' out. you work out?  I bet you like workin' out?"

I won't lie--I blushed.  Not because I was flattered but because this is happening in front of two women and at least one if not two store employees.  And I'm trapped.  (There is no Murphy/Mahony to come running across the field to save me; I'm on my own.)

I mumble some reply in the affirmative hoping he will simply walk away; he does not.

"Yeeeeaaahhh...I get it [the stroller] is real good for joggin' and runnin'.  You jog and run too, right?"

Trapped.  I nod again.

"Yeeeeaaahhh...I can tell.  No excuse not to exercise with that thing thurr!"

Finally, the woman at the back of the aisle passes the one blocking my way, smiling and thanking me; I am convinced she smiles not because of my polite gesture of backing out of the aisle to allow her passage but more as a result of a benevolent pity.  I can almost get through...but now I have to back up to let the first woman out.

And that's when he sees Timmy.


That's him sucking in his breath.

"Oh my! (Seriously--he said, "Oh my!")  Aren't you a handsome guy?  What's your name, little man!?"

I should have said something like Peggy or Crawl The Warrior King but instead I said only, "Timmy."

And that's when he flirted with the baby.

"Aww, well hey there Timmy!  Can I climb in there with ya?"

He chuckles jovially.  I smile, nod, and bolt down the aisle to grab my milk, hearing him say, " more walkin' fo' me today!  Wish I had one of those to be pushed around in!" over my shoulder.

Let's recap: first I thought he was just a friendly guy.  Then I thought he was a friendly homosexual man who took a shining to me.  Finally I conclude that he is a friendly creepy homosexual man who wants to climb into the stroller with my son.

I get to the register...and find myself stuck behind a different octogenarian.  The register-boy is staring at him, nonplussed.  I see the early-bird-special-lover attempting to count his money.  I hear the register boy repeat (likely for the third or fourth time) the gentleman's total.  The man seems confused.  He is holding a large quantity of small bills. 

I notice (as I look over my shoulder to make sure that Lou Gossett Laides Man isn't seeking intercourse with me ("I'll take an entendre," says Sucio Sanchez to the bartender.  "An entendre, it is!"  "Wait wait!" Sucio Sanchez interjects.  "Better make it a double.")) that the woman working the next register over is smiling and waving at Timmy.  She seems nice...and not interested in my genitals...(or Timmy's?) I ask her if her register is open and then make a hasty escape from the old man (still counting his money...hell...I'll be he is STILL there right NOW counting it!)  The woman and I banter a bit about Timmy and the importance of organic milk over regular milk (she explains to me, confidentially but kindly) before I swipe my credit card, grab my packages, and begin to depart the store. 

On the way out, though, I see the Ladies Man at the first register...with a woman who is dressed as outlandishly as he is.  And now I am thoroughly confused.  Is she his wife?  His twin-sister?  Just a friend?  The implications of each are expansive.  Ultimately, I realize that the exit is in front of me and my remarkable encounter behind me; it's time to beat feet and go to the bagel store to grab my lunch and continue my ordinary day.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mission Impossible 2010: Coffee, A Cell Phone, And A Sleeping Baby

The further along I travel on the path of parenthood the more I find parallels between parenting and teaching.  In a way, this is beneficial for me because I can fall back on my pedagogical training at certain points and, I would imagine, I will be able to utilize my parenting skills in future classrooms.  In both professions (if you will) you are entrusted with the lives and minds of youngsters and it is your task not only to instill their porous, receptive brains with knowledge but also to shape their very persons; every thing that you say and do around them has an impact, positive or negative.  Teachers and parents both want the best for their children and often lose sleep thinking of ways to ensure that said youngsters are receiving the best care and instruction that can be offered.  Both serve as instructors, disciplinarians, mentors, friends (if you're lucky enough to earn your kids' trust), and any other number of roles.

It's amazing when you consider the way the dynamics of the parent/child and teacher/student relationships change on a daily basis; some days, as the adult, you're off and just don't have it--other times it's the kids who are impish and who will test your patience and wits.  The funny thing, though, is that one day might not necessarily have an impact on the next.  If a child is bad one day, he or she might be punished, but (ideally) the parent will not hold the incident against him or her, nor will the child begrudge the parent (once the punishment has ended); the same goes for teachers.  I remember one day when I was doing my student teaching that my cooperating teacher was out and it was up to me to run the show.  I had been teaching for a few months by then and was comfortable as the sole instructor (a substitute was also present but did not participate in the lesson).  I had encountered this situation before and everything had gone smoothly.  This time, however, things were horrendously different.  I don't know if it was the fact that it was a rainy day, if there was something going on amongst the students overall, or if people were just in a general funk, but I found myself fighting with nearly all of my students.  Nothing I had prepared was going over well and the class was listless and paying me little attention.

I left the school that day feeling dejected--as if I had let my students down, somehow.  I dreaded going back the next day but I recalled some advice I had received from a veteran teacher earlier in the year.  He had told me not to worry about having an argument with a student or a bad day in the classroom--that we (as teachers) spend far more time worrying about it than the students do.  In fact, they wouldn't even remember it the next day.  Silently, I hoped that this would be the case and, sure enough, when I reentered the classroom the next day, the students were all back to their normal selves and everything went off without incident.

One of the challenges of being a parent or a teacher is the innate need always to be "on."  This means always having the perfect lesson, always engaging one's students, as well as always keeping one's children entertained and having the most amazing ideas for fun things to do.  What I learned as a teacher is that it's okay NOT to be on all the time--nor is it expected!  I'm not sure about parenting but I suppose we'll see as Timmy gets older.  I hate when he and I fail to get along (much like today--more on that) or when he seems bored and I'm unable to perk him up.  I suppose the latter is the worst, though, because he is still too young to speak, to tell me what he wants to do.  It takes some clairvoyance on my part to be able to decipher from his body language what's going on inside of his head and what he'd most like to do.  I'm finding that I'm becoming more attuned to him, though, and I'm building a checklist or dossier of sorts that I can fall back on when I'm not having success keeping him happy.

I know what you're thinking--what the hell does this have to do with Mission Impossible or the other things from the title?  Has he lost his mind?  Maybe he's just trying to snag us with a snazzy headline only to bore us to death with his droll musings on parenting parallels?

Stick with me: I'm just building up the suspense.

So yeah...parenting is like teaching...but children are also like puppies.  How's THAT for a parallel?  It's true though and it's also something I realized today.  I had been sitting at my computer typing up an email, reading things online, and listening to some music when I realized that it had grown awfully quiet behind me.  Timmy had been in his Exersaucer bouncing happily about, playing with his toys...but then the silence came.  I turned around, unsure of what I would find...only to see Timmy standing up in his Exersaucer staring at me with (you guessed it) puppy dog eyes.  He was just staring at me.  So I said, "Hey buddy!"  He lit up and started jumping up and down.  I asked him if he wanted me to pick him up.  He grinned his gummy little grin and jumped up and down some more. 

I picked him up and brought him back to the computer with me.  And then I got to thinking about the baby/puppy connection.  Both drool a lot.  Both will amuse themselves with the simplest of toys.  Both are incredibly adorable (an evolutionary trait meant to dissuade the father animals from eating them--true story and seem to elicit an "Aww!" reaction with almost everything they do.  Both utilize chew toys.  Both are great conversation starters (mostly with women).  Both enjoy sleeping in your bed...and then taking it over.  Both need to be potty trained and taught other basic elements of life.

And this is where it all comes together.

See, being a teacher, a parent, and a pet owner all have one fundamental thing in common: you think that you have taught your student/child/puppy something and that they have mastered that thing, without fail.  You find out that you are wrong, however, only when attempting to demonstrate this to others or at an incredibly inopportune time.  Teachers think that their students "really got" those lessons on algebra/grammar/the Revolutionary War/...until the tests come back...and not a single student scored above an eighty.  You could argue that the test was too difficult...but you can tell from the responses that these kids just didn't have a clue.  You train your puppy to perform a particular trick that it has repeated dozens of times...until you try to show a friend.  And the dog just stares blankly at you before walking away.  And then your friend does the same thing. 

For the parenting example, I will refer to my personal experience and thus finally segue into the bloody beating heart of this blog entry.  See, one of the largest difficulties I was having with Timmy since May or June was getting him to take his naps during the day.  I could tell (roughly) what times he would be getting tired and, as they began to grow more regular, I figured that it would be easy to get him to lie down.  Only it wasn't.  In fact, it got progressively worse.  He hated his swing and he gradually began to refuse to sleep in his pack and play.  Forget about the crib--he would have none of that one.  The only way that he would fall asleep with any consistency would be if he fell asleep on me.  He could be asleep on me for five minutes or an hour--the moment I would get up to place him down somewhere else, he would wake up and cry out in indignation.  The only way I was able to get him to fall asleep would be to put him in the swing (which he hated) and wait for him to pass out and stop crying (the latter of which he would do incessantly to the point that I worried I was scarring him mentally or emotionally). 

I did my due diligence, asking other parents for advice, reading up on messageboards online, and reading through the Baby 411 book.  The only consistent elements that I found were a) not to let him sleep on me and b) not to let him cry himself to sleep or to cry for longer than ten minutes at a stretch.  Some days he would fall asleep in his pack and play, other days in the swing (of his own volition), but most days found me reaching the end of my patience and getting frustrated more at myself than at him; I just couldn't figure it out.  He would sleep fine for a few days and then spend the next few fighting me viciously. 

Finally, he and I figured it out and, for the last two weeks, he was sleeping like an angel.  No fights, no moments of frustration, and no bloodcurdling Banshee screams from him.  Until today.

At first, everything was going according to plan.  The boy was sleeping and I was working on various computer projects, keeping an eye on him via our camera/video monitor system.  He went in for a nap around 1:40 (he usually begins sleeping anywhere from 12:30 until 2:00) and slept peacefully until around 2:30.  He needs much more than fifty minutes of sleep for his nap and usually sleeps two hours or more.  Occasionally, he will wake himself up but, if left alone, he will fall back to sleep.  Not this time.  Watching him through the monitor, he was sitting quietly but was very, very much awake.  He was playing with his pacifier, staring into the camera, and looking around the room serenely. 

Or so it seemed.

I went down and picked him up, taking him back upstairs with me.  I placed him in his Exersaucer figuring he would want to play.  He balked.  I picked him up and had him on my lap while I typed.  He fussed and squirmed.  I thought maybe he had a dirty diaper; all was clear in the underbuggins.  I placed him back into the Exersaucer.  He cried.  I picked him back up and laid down on the couch with him.  He fidgeted and cried, struggling to fight sleep; he won.  I placed him in his swing, figuring that he was exhausted and would be out cold within a few minutes; ten minutes later he was still awake, smacking his little hands on the plastic snack tray-portion of the swing.  Back in the Exersaucer.  More crying. 

Finally, I had enough.  I brought him back downstairs and got him set up for his nap.  That was when he decided to start screaming.  I went back upstairs and could hear him not only through the monitor but through the floor.  I had made coffee and was trying to enjoy it while I worked on a music project but Timmy's screams of mutilation were too much.  I went downstairs and snapped at him...then HE snapped and began to scream like I was skinning him with a cheese grater.  Seriously--it was so bad I had to close the windows because I was afraid the neighbors or passers-by would think I was attempting to cannibalize my boy. 

I put him back in his swing and decided to cancel my plans to work on my music project upstairs.  Instead, I shut the light, left him screaming in the swing, and headed downstairs to read.  I know--it sounds callous and heartless...but I know my boy and I knew that he wouldn't last this time; he would run out of gas.  So I sit down to read...and hear him screaming through the walls this time.  My resistance is low at this point since I have had exactly one doughnut and one small Celeste pizza all day.  I turn on the fan to try to cool me and calm me down and I begin reading.  After a few minutes I listen and realize that all is quiet.  I open the door and slink upstairs to check for sure and...sure enough...he's out cold in the swing.

Mission accomplished.

I head back downstairs and get myself comfortable on the bed with book in hand.  I crave a warm sip of my strong brew...only to realize that I had left it upstairs on the computer desk before I placed Timmy in the swing.  And therein lie my dilemma: if I were to go upstairs I would risk waking the boy and thus defeating the efforts of the past HOUR PLUS...but, on the was a goodish brew...could I really just leave it to die a cold, lonely death on my desk?

I decided to test the water.

Slowly, I walked up the stairs to the upper level of the house, stopping on the third step from the top.  I could see Timmy but he could not see me; he was fast asleep.  I took another step up and the stairs creaked beneath my wait...and the boy stirred.  Then he opened his eyes.  I dropped down to my belly on the stairs and listened as he let out a lone whimper.  I watched as his eyes rolled...rolled...rolled...until finally, he was asleep once more.  I knew that there was no way I could make it across the room to my coffee without waking him and, once spotted, I knew that the jig would be up; he would awaken fully and begin screaming once again.

Thus began my Mission Impossible scenario.

I knew what must be done.  Taking a deep breath, I brought my foot off of the third step from the top and rested my knee on the floor above me.  I lowered my torso to the ground and slowly brought up my lagging leg; I would military crawl across the room to the desk.  It was a great plan...until I realized that I wouldn't be able to return the same way.  I decided that I would cross that bridge when I got to it.  At that point, my only concern was to get to the computer.  And thus, in the relative darkness of the room, I began to crawl.  Left-forearm forward with right knee...then right-forearm and left knee...keeping my eyes on the sleeping boy the entire time, as if he were a dragon that would ignite me with his fierce dragon...breath...were he to waken.

I'm trying to shift my weight as best I can so as to prevent the floor from creaking...and...surprisingly...I'm doing a decent job.  I try to coordinate my forward progress with each peak of the swing's movement: crawl when the swing comes all the way forward and creaks, crawl again when it reaches its backward-terminus.  I realize that I'm wearing all black and I figure that if I stay low to the ground and stop moving completely if Timmy wakes up and opens his eyes that he won't see me.  I'm using Jurassic Park logic, figuring that an infant's vision is like that of a T-Rex's.  I figure my logic is sound...because there's no one there to tell me otherwise.  Plus it sounds really cool and enhances the faux-danger level of my mission.

The danger though isn't so much that Timmy will wake up and see me but that he will wake up and sense me.  I swear to God, this kid came with built-in preternatural ninja skills.  He can be in a dead sleep and the moment someone enters the room he will wake up.  I mean, I could have heavy music blasting and a fan or air conditioner on so that there is no WAY he could possibly hear me come in...and he will wake up and look right at me!  Incidentally, when this has happened and he was really exhausted, if I stood stock still and held my breath, eventually his eyes would begin to roll back into his head and he was pass out once more.

Anyway, so I'm crawling across the room and I put up my sixth-sense-firewall so that his psychic probe can't detect me.  Finally, I draw closer and closer to my computer chair, which is right near my desk; the mug of delicious coffee is in sight...then it is almost within reach.  I stand up ever so softly and turn around with bated breath; he has not stirred.  Using my advanced ninja skills, I take three ginger ninja hop-steps until I am right by my desk; I do not hesitate for a moment.  I grab the mug and then gingerly ninja hop step back across the room, all the while simultaneously watching the boy, monitoring my proximity to the stairs, and ensuring that the coffee doesn't slosh and escape its container (I actually managed not to shake it even a little--it was pretty impressive).

I reach the stairs and bolt.  I realize that he might wake up but I find that I do not care; I have obtained the coffee and will now enjoy some quiet time, whether he wants to cooperate or not.  I return to the bedroom downstairs feeling invigorated and self-satisfied.  Okay...maybe I felt a bit smug...but, minus the laser alarm system, I'm pretty sure I just recreated perfectly that scene from Mission Impossible.  More or less.  At least in my mind.  I close the bedroom door behind me and place the mug down on a coaster on Heather's nightstand next to the bed.  I get my pillows set up on the bed and get comfortable, looking forward to some good Ulysses reading time and some quality joe.  I realized that I had shut the blinds in an attempt to help Timmy to fall asleep and decide that I wanted some natural light to read by instead of just the overhead ceiling light; this was my tragic mistake.

I'll admit it: I got greedy.  I couldn't be happy just with getting the coffee and getting the boy to fall asleep.  In a way, I almost deserved what came next.


I swung my feet over towards the floor...jauntily.  Maybe that's the worst part--I was in great spirits and would have bounced up off the bed were it not for what happened next.  I could tell you that I knocked over the full mug of coffee...but that wouldn't do the event justice.  No no--I damn near obliterated the mug.  I mean, I absolutely nailed this friggin thing with my foot.

Now I know what you're thinking: okay, so you knocked the mug over and spilled coffee everywhere--what's the big deal?

To understand fully what occurred next, you must have been reading carefully.  I didn't just swing my legs over...I swung them over with zest--with a real joie de vivre.  Needless to say, I got double-teamed by two of Newton and Nature's laws.  Fucking Newton.  You see, my momentum carried my forward even though I knew that I had knocked over the coffee.  In fact, as I was pulled into a seated position I saw the mug hit the floor and roll emptily away.  Though I did not see it I am convinced that the mug made at least two full revolutions mid-flight as it deposited the warm liquid of my java-nectar into the splash zone.  I saw this because it landed outside of this area and yet its outside was covered in spilled coffee, which could have come only from its airborne procession towards the floor.

Remember though--I said two of Newton and Nature's laws.  Acceleration pulled me forward but it was that spiteful bitch gravity that prevented me from applying the brakes.  Instead, my feet landed firmly--I mean dead center--in the puddle of coffee that is, at this point, sinking slowly into the carpet; my then-white socks absorbed a fair amount of said brew, however.  In the next moment I surprised myself with my reaction: I laughed.


Then I shook my head in disbelief.  I was grateful that the coffee cup didn't break (as it is my favorite coffee receptacle) and that the coffee splash radius covered only the carpet, the base of the fan, my socks, and Heather's tanktop.  I realized that I had to act quickly to try to mitigate the staining of said clothes and carpeting so I ran immediately into the kitchen to grab paper towels.  I daubed up what I could and then realized that I would need to get some wet paper towels to loosen what had already settled in.  I placed the tank top and the socks into the bathroom sink, which I had filled with hot water.  I won't looked like some invisible midget had diarrhea the second I swished the socks and shirt in the basin.  Gagging, I let the water out, and repeated the procedure until the water no longer maintained a fecal consistency and hue.

Returning to the bedroom, I realized that I would have to use more than half of the roll of paper towels if I wanted to dry up the entire area.  I decided to grab a raggy towel from the closet and use that to soak up what I could of the coffee.  This time, though, it looked like a giant had mistaken said towel for toilet paper.


So I'm doing my best to dry up the stain and, feeling like I have made significant progress, I stand up...without realizing that I'm right beneath the doorknob.  Oh, don't worry--it broke my fall...if I were falling upward as I attempted to stand up.  It caught me right on the bony part of my shoulder.  Now I get annoyed, mostly because of the shooting pain that is coursing through my arm and neck.  Then it subsides and my jocularity returns.  I decide that this would make a great blog entry.  I then decide that I would like to call Heather to tell her about it.

Then I realize that my phone is upstairs.  This time the dilemma is less of a quandary: if the phone goes off, it will almost surely disturb the boy's slumber.  I must go after it.  I slink up the stairs and decide at the top that I don't need to use any subterfuge in pursuing my bounty this time.  I take a step towards the center of the room...and the floor creaks...and Timmy opens his eyes...and looks right at me.  As any good soldier would do, I fall back on my training.  And by training I mean numerous viewings of Jurassic Park.  I become a statue.  I don't so much as blink as I stare right back at him from across the room.  He swings back staring right at me.  Then he swings forward, still looking me in the eyes...almost looking through me.  I think, "I'm wearing all black and I'm standing perfectly still...there's no WAY he can see me."  I summon all of my ninja energy and use it to convince myself that what I have just thought is true.  I no longer think I am a black-clothed ninja statue...I AM a pitch-colored column of nothingness floating in the vast expanse of darkness in front of a tired, swinging, baby.  I stare at him as he stares at me.  I will him back to sleep.  And...slowly...he closes his eyes...and returns to sleep.

I drop to my belly and crawl over to that damned couch, grab the phone, stand up, and gingerly ninja step my way to freedom.  I call Heather immediately upon returning downstairs.


Story of my life.