A relic from the archives

February 24th, 2011 / #uncategorized

When I was a sophomore in high school, my parents thought it completely acceptable to let me leave the house wearing this:

Taken at the Aftermath Yearbook banquet, circa 2004

Funeral for a friend

February 22nd, 2011 / #family, #friends, #funerals

My neighbor, Gary, died a few weeks ago. When last we visited Gary on this fair blog, he was a fifty-something mailman who lived with his mother and rode his Harley for an hour each week. In the time since I penned – with very questionable sentence structure, I might add – my piece, Gary retired, sold his bike, and buried his mother.

Last weekend, we buried him. Figuratively, of course, since he was cremated, but I want to tell the story of his funeral because I’d hate for my lasting memory of his life to be a vague and fading recollection tucked away in the recesses of my mind. So, here it is.

I remember the night Gary died. It was a Saturday in January. He had only been really sick for a week, and I took that at a testament to how he liked to do things: efficiently, without making a big production of things. Only a couple days before, I came home from school in the afternoon to find hundreds, if not a thousand, large black crows flying in the crisp winter air above my block. I don’t think this was necessarily an omen, but later that day the ambulance was called out to his home for what would be the second-to-last time.

It arrived again long after nightfall that Saturday. I, like the nosy neighbor from Bewitched, watched as the anticlimactic drama unfolded. All in all, a small army of emergency response vehicles showed up: an ambulance, two large fire rescue trucks, a fire rescue pickup truck, and three police cruisers that stayed until after I dozed off. After all, I had church in the morning.

The service was on a Saturday a couple of weeks after he died. Given his lifetime of public service and his tendency to be an old school kind of guy, it was held at the local VFW post, only a couple of blocks from where we live.

Now, I had never been in a VFW before this. As a kid, I would always pass by the building and be amazed that a gigantic cannon could sit outside, exposed to the elements, and no one would try to fire it. It was a mythical place: I had no idea what went on inside there, but it must have been important.

The lodge is split into two main rooms: a hall where Lt. Dan can win a four corners payoff on his bingo card, and a canteen where he can invest his hard-earned winnings in the finest American beers. Late in the morning, everyone arrived and was ushered into the canteen, since student speakers of some sort were speaking to representatives from the State Department. I wish I could have listened to what they had to say.

As we stood in the corner of the smoke-filled canteen, I noticed that behind the veil of coziness, the canteen was in many ways a product of the protocol-driven forces that inhabited it. There were no barstools in this place; the bar itself sat no higher than a common desk to accommodate wheelchair-bound veterans. On the walls (and bar, and windows, and hanging from the ceiling) were signs declaring the bartender’s authority: “If the bartender asks you to leave,” one read, “you have five minutes to comply or 30 days to think about it!” Near the entrance of the canteen hung numerous postings of the rules of the house – chief among them the fact that you must be a member to purchase alcohol. The carpet was the industrial, textureless kind that you see in government buildings. The ceiling tiles were stained yellow from decades of smoking. This was the most American place in which I had ever been.

I’m not sure if it was a response to the smoky atmosphere of the canteen, but as we waited for the State Department to clear out from the bingo hall, some people migrated to the parking lot. There, Gary’s coworkers from the post office gathered, many of them wearing their USPS uniforms, as they were merely taking a break from the never ending postal delivery cycle. Gary’s biker buddies also showed en masse (they were the ones who looked like varying degrees of Santa Claus). After nearly an hour, we were corralled into the bingo hall for the service.

Now, the only funerals I had ever been to were in churches. So when I entered the hall, I was expecting to see some makeshift pew system, perhaps composed of a couple hundred chairs in rows. What I encountered was almost the polar opposite: rather than a bunch of chairs assembled facing the front of the room, there was a large, open area in the center of the room, presumably for when the VFW holds its heavily-anticipated singles dances. (I’ve always wanted to see how these events go, but since I’m not a veteran I assume they will remain a great mystery for the rest of my life. A pity.)

Around the periphery of this open space were old wooden tables, each with four plastic chairs. Beyond these tables were long banquet tables arranged against three walls of the room. This was no setup for a funeral, I thought, but who was I to complain? It’s how they did things here, after all.

As the crowd milled about, the service began when the local VFW Chaplain (who, by sheer coincidence, was a family friend) queued up a recording of Taps on the large wooden console at the front of the room. Then, Gary’s brother Steve was asked to say a few words about the man who has always cared for him and his family. There, below the large, unlit bingo board that hung on the wall behind him, Steve broke down.

One letter carrier got up to speak to the room full of grown men drinking bottles of beer and smoking their fifth cigarette. “I sure hope no one is waiting for their mail today,” he said, “because you’ll be waiting for a while. We’re all here.”

While we listened to the service, the color guard shuffled in. A geriatric militia complete with white gloves and black berets, this group of septuagenarians displayed an amazing amount of respect for a ritual they had undoubtedly practiced hundreds of times. We marched back out to the parking lot for the last part of our goodbye to Gary.

One member of the guard, rigid with respect and sincerity, presented a crisply folded American flag to Steve. Another member, after fiddling for a few seconds with a phony bugle that played the same recording of Taps we heard in the bingo hall, stood with the instrument to his lips for a half minute. Three members of the firing squad then shot forth into the suburban sunlight three shells each.

And Gary was gone.

This post was not written in the form of a question

February 15th, 2011 / #observations, #television

Tonight, for the second time in as many days, IBM’s Watson will battle the brains of a couple of the best Jeopardy! contestants of all time, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

I’ve been reading about this for months now. For some reason, I subscribed to Forbes in late 2010 and their story about artificial mind power on syndicated television game shows is the only thing from the publication I’ve read to date. Turns out I’m not really a Forbes kind of guy. Surprise, right?

Anyhow, all of this talk of digital daily doubles got me thinking: Who (or what, as it were) should I root for? Humans? Robots? It’s an epic clash of man and machine.

On the one hand, to root against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter would be traitorous to my own kind. On the other, if Watson can eke out a victory against the best of the best, it will prove the technological prowess of our species. But is it acceptable to cheer progress, even if it is at the expense of real men?

After thinking about where my priorities are, however, I came to a conclusion: I can’t stand human Jeopardy! contestants. From their obnoxious little mannerisms to their uninteresting and tedious personal stories after the first commercial break, there are few players I can actually tolerate. And when Ken Jennings was on for 74 days in a row? It was like watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island: you know how it’s going to end, but it’s 7:30, I just ate, and the remote’s all the way over there. A recipe for disaster.

The computer doesn’t have any of those characteristics. No personal quirks, no faux humility, no propensity to be an annoying sack of bones. It’s for this reason – not because of the wonderment of a technological tomorrow – that I hereby endorse Watson in this contest.

Unlike other prerequisite reading, the bookstores can’t rob you blind on this one

February 14th, 2011 / #holidays, #observations, #valentinesday

So, having not updated WordPress for fear of mucking up the works behind-the-scenes of this website, the works got mucked supremely this weekend. On Friday, I first noticed the blank page of death. Something must have been wrong with the database.

After a few hours of exporting, importing, and general nerdery, the site is back up and looking better than ever. However, before I could walk away I had to go through and reassign hyperlinks in over seven years of posts. As I was doing this, I realized something.

If you publicly blog over a period of years, you essentially assign homework to any legitimate prospective spouse. I don’t feel I would be completely comfortable spending my life with another person if she hadn’t read my every inconsequential rambling. Long-term blogging acts as full disclosure and a way for others to see how you’ve developed over time, both academically and in terms of the opinions you hold. It’s required reading.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Happy Valentine’s Day, kids.

As they revolve in the Middle East, I resolve not to feast

February 2nd, 2011 / #food, #resolutions

I have intentionally neglected to write about this until now, for fear that I would peter out two weeks in and have my words come back to haunt my dreams. Now that a month has passed, however, I reckon it’s time to codify this so I can hold myself accountable going forward.

On December 31, 2010, I was browsing my seven years(!) worth of blog entries. One in particular called out to me. Holy crap, I used to weigh 140 pounds? I was little more than a biological paperweight. A bit too skinny, if you ask me. So, I embarked upon a devil-may-care diet consisting mostly of pure grease and self loathing.

Well, six years and 70(!) pounds later, I began to rethink my decision to kneel at the altar of hedonism. After all, I figured, it probably wasn’t helping my prospects of having full intercourse with a woman in this lifetime. Luckily for me, I came to this revelation during resolution season. In the month since I decided not to fill my arteries with pure mayonnaise and doughnut glaze, I’ve lost 10 pounds (I think – I am too cheap to buy a scale, so I weigh myself weekly at the grocery store). I may have passed back onto the right side of 200, which would be a first since about two years ago.

Not that anyone reads this much anymore (I don’t fault you; I rarely update and when I do, it’s senseless drivel that the Internet would probably do better without), but I just wanted to put this out there. That way, if (when) I revert to my old habits, I can look back to this public admission of intent and perhaps regain some perspective on the whole weight issue.

The bikini calendar photo shoot is next week. Wish me luck.

Christmas time was here

December 29th, 2010 / #christmas, #observations, #television

I realize it’s sacrilegious to criticize American icons like this, but since no one reads what I write anyway, let’s get down to business.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, while charming, is really terrible.

I understand that part of the allure of gathering the tots around the tube every yuletide is to reflect back upon memories of simpler times while appreciating the historical significance of the cartoon, but c’mon: the production value of the thing is just awful.

Whenever I catch a Charles Shultz biography or similar documentary, they are quick to point out that, in a radical move uncommon to the industry, Charlie Brown cartoons used actual kids rather than grown-up voice actors for the audio track. Neat idea, I guess, but did they have to use the least convincing children on the planet for the job? The lack of trained child voice actors in the heyday of animation results in Shultzian quirks that, thanks to broadcast television’s annual promotion, remain with us to this day: long, awkward pauses; weird voice inflections; and a final speech by Linus that’s delivered so quickly it seems like he has to pee or something.

Also (and this is an aside not solely related to the original Christmas show), using child voiceovers necessitates whole new casts for future iterations of Charlie Brown cartoons. After they air A Charlie Brown Christmas, they air I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown! with an entirely different cast. I realize that the latter was made decades after the former and that it would be nearly impossible to use the same cast for both, regardless of age, but something tells me it would be easier to emulate the original voices had they been well composed by professional voice actors. Just my two cents.

However silly these kids sound, though, I still watch A Charlie Brown Christmas every year (in all its terrible glory). I don’t know, maybe it’s that I’m a sucker for convention and to watch Peanuts cartoons on major American holidays is the most conventional way a middle class white kid can spend his youth. Maybe my relatively newfound discovery of jazz music has drawn me once again to the cartoon’s soundtrack. Or maybe I just like to watch for the purpose of participating in the greatest of all American pastimes, rampant and unfounded criticism.

Look out for my Christmas post next year, in which I attempt to discern the origins of this new-fangled “Rerun” character. That kid sucks.

Spare some change?

November 6th, 2010 / #complaints, #music, #observations

I like public broadcasting. I remember when I was young, it seems like every major event occurred with the faint dinging of Mister Rogers’ trolley in the background. I remember when B.J. totally ruined Barney’s show by joining the cast. And I remember the pre- and post- Shari Lewis years.

As I grew up, I moved on to National Public Radio. First, it was Morning Edition in the mornings to keep me awake when I had to rise at 5:00 a.m. for high school, then it was whatever was playing on the station in Gainesville (Science Friday was and is a personal favorite). Now, I listen whenever I think about it since they did away with classical music and switched to jazz in the evenings on WUSF.

Either way, though, I don’t listen as much as I should. It’s not because of a lack of relevant and interesting programming; it’s because they ask for money all the damn time and I’m sick of it.

When one of the weekly pledge drives crops up on my radio, it’s an instant turn off. Whenever one of these events in monotony arrives, it’s all I can do not to imagine Ira Glass in his big, dumb hipster glasses with a tin cup begging for change outside of a 7-11.

I love public radio, but I think there should be a way to give those who actually donate a way to listen to all of their fine programming without degrading yourself and selling tote bags and DVDs for hundreds of dollars. It’s unbecoming.

Well, my October schedule just cleared up

October 12th, 2010 / #(devil)rays, #baseball, #hair

In the years since my temperamental adolescence, I’ve developed the unique ability to not get emotional over anything. Well, almost anything. For some reason, the majority of my adult life has been spent nurturing deep-seated and irrational emotional devotion to baseball. Does this mean I’m broken? Or does it mean that I’m functioning really, really properly?

Tonight, the (Devil) Rays lost their playoff series to the Texas Rangers. I can sit here and blame the absurdly terrible umpiring, the fact that our hitting coach is incapable, or the fact that we started Kelly Shoppach at catcher for this, the most important game of the year. And I did all of these things until five minutes ago. Five minutes ago, I shaved my playoff beard.

It wasn’t as gnarly as the 2008 incarnation, but it was there. I woke up with it, thought about how much it itched all day, and I went to sleep with it only to repeat the cycle again and again. When I scratched it, I thought about how much I love my team – twelve times every minute. I can’t be sure, but when we’d make an error or strike out looking or get hosed on an iffy call, I think I felt my follicles trying extra hard to push the strands out. I was so attached.

I shaved, and now I feel nothing but sadness.

The same thing happened in 2008: Eric Hinske struck out; Brad Lidge dropped to his knees; and I, feeling a whirlwind of emotions that ran the gamut from despair to pride to disbelief, walked to the bathroom and eliminated the facial project I had worked on for nearly a month. But after the whirlwind had died down, there was only one feeling left to feel. It’s the same one I feel now.

I realize that this is neither encouraged nor healthy, but I think that’s what’s so special about baseball. Five years ago, I was just a kid in high school who fooled himself into rooting for a ragtag bunch of losers. Today, I’m a kid in graduate school who fooled himself into rooting for a scrappy bunch of (almost) winners. And next year, I will fool myself into rooting for the boys – my boys – because that’s what needs to be done.

Maybe it’s not only sadness I feel. Maybe the time I spent shaving alone in the silence of my own locker room let me gain a bit of perspective. No, it’s not only sadness: it’s got a twist of hope with a dash of excitement and a whole lot of pride. Yeah, that’s it.

Go Rays.

I couldn't squeeze this down to 140 characters, so here it is.

August 28th, 2010 / #complaints, #usfsp

I need to acquaint myself with Final Cut Pro for school, so today I set up a virtual machine running OSX on my system so I can run the OS-specific software.

I feel like I’m playing with one of those toys from the pediatrician’s office with the multicolor beads on a wire ground into a block of wood.

  • Who I Am

    I'm a nobody from Florida with things to say (sometimes).

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    This is a not-so-detailed account of my adolescence over the course of almost a decade. Here, I shared my thoughts about things of no real consequence while at the same time being reckless with semicolons and flowery language.

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