An Explorer.

Dating back to second grade, my two favorite explorers are Hernando de Soto and Ponce de Leon, largely because they “discovered” things—de Soto was the first European to cross the mighty Mississippi River (the Hernando de Soto Bridge spans the Mighty Sip and connects my hometown of Memphis to West Memphis, AR, meaning he must’ve discovered a big trashy KOA campground) and de Leon discovered…Florida. At least his name kicks ass. Both of theirs do.

[Update: Wiki says de Soto was not just an explorer but a CONQUISTADOR. What a guy.]

It’s weird that being inspired to make daring choices, the kinds you face a hundred times a day, was once its own profession, but when I grow up an explorer is what I want to be—always standing on the front lip of the boat daring the world to be flat and let me drop right off into space. Exploring the world. Exploring adulthood, and its bastard screwup son manhood. Exploring my feelings and personal truths, even when the seas are stormy (and my scurvy-addled brain is threatening mutiny, as it will).

Last week I had my yearly three cups of coffee with one of my oldest friends. He told me he and his lovely wife are hoping to get pregnant (so I’m hoping he can work in a camping trip in April), meaning we’re charting courses on opposite hemispheres. Still we’ll both face choices and challenges where visibility will be low, so we made our yearly promise renewal to each other, I Hernando (I just like his beard better) and he Ponce, to keep exploring no matter what.

Ahoy.

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Disreparenthood.

My folks don’t believe in buying new cars. Rather, they’re dead-set against it, and it’s been like that since I’ve been alive. Seemed okay to me—after Dad informed me the screw-job percentage/amount by which a new car depreciates the minute you drive it off the lot, good used cars seemed to make dollar sense. Though we never seemed to get the good ones.

“Damn car’s a lemon!” “That last owner screwed us!” I heard stuff like this a lot.

As an adult, though, I learned the real reason my parents count on used cars: they need to be able to blame the trashing of said car on someone or something else. That’s also to say I learned an evil secret in my family: Dad is able to reduce anything from “like new” to “like shit” in about three months. He can make the beige cloth sag off the inside roof of any car just by glaring at it. If this is a genetic trait, it luckily bypassed me, but it strong in my younger sister.

It’s not just the way we break things…it’s the ways we’ll deny that “broken” is what they are. People in my family seem to think that when products start to malfunction (which, again, is within three months), they’re just developing a little colicky personality and that they should be repaired, held together and operated using Fonzie-like tricks where you hit them with your elbow. (“Aaaaay!”ing optional.) I’m just afraid their disposal will break, and Dad will come up with a trick that requires him to stick his hand down in it, spin the blade, then pull his hand out “before that thing really gets going.”

Anyway I’ve compiled my notes after spending the last week with my folks in Memphis, and I’m ready to perform the annual update of the list of things in their house/cars being held together magic:

TV: It’s a two year old HD that displays all black colors as 1986 IBM computer screen green (see below)…until it warms up, which doesn’t actually ever happen. TVs don’t “warm up.”

TV: The only way to turn the volume down is to first turn it up, then turn it down real quick, as though there’s a pendulum device swinging inside the remote. This seems to rarely work, so the volume ends up on 83 and you just have to turn the TV off and go to bed for the night.

Telephone: Rings once and stops, making each parent think the other has answered my Grandmother’s phone call. (They’re dead-set on still having a landline—I asked. Also, it’s always my grandmother.)

Brights in Dad’s car: They sometimes just turn on, blinding oncoming drivers (he’s been pulled over for this, but somehow gets cops to sympathize with how crazy it would be to spend all that money to fix them)

Freezer door: The storage shelf falls off the inside of the door, dropping months-old frozen pea bricks on your foot when you open it.

Lamp: Every lamp in the whole house. You’d think they’re all motion activated. They’re not.

Side door doorknob: “You just have to jimmy it.”

iPad: Just gave my mother one for Christmas. I give it two weeks.

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Subbuteo Lives.

How Subbuteo ended up for sale in small quantities in Memphis TN is a total mystery, one probably involving a comedic, movie-like shipping mix up where Memphis got some weird little table soccer game from Europe and a toy store in Belgium got a bunch of kilos of blow. It’s way less a mystery how I got Subbuteo as a gift—some adult (maybe my Dad) asked the same question I ask now when I holiday shop for kids: “Christ on a corn dog, I don’t know…what the hell do kids like?” I loved soccer and had been playing since I was three, so when he or whoever came across a Subbuteo set, gift problem solved.

I started with the two teams, the red and the blue, that came with the original set, then ordered two more teams (England’s Crystal Palace and Holland’s Feyenoord) because I liked their uniforms. But I soon stopped playing, probably having discovered BMX.

Fast forward twenty years and I found myself working with a guy from London who’d also played Subbuteo as a kid (which made more sense…he was from London). We got excited, drank a few beers, bought new teams, set up a Subbuteo pitch in a corner of the office, and blew off a lot of work over the next few months.

Well now, lo and behold, there’s a Subbuteo documentary called “Subbuteopia” coming out soon.

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IMMIGRANT SONG!

Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” has my vote for best rock n’ roll song ever, and that answer has never changed. Don’t even come to me with some calculatedly cred-oozing vote like Radiohead’s “National Anthem”—there was nothing calculated about what happened the first time I heard “Immigrant Song” when I was ten or eleven: my body became covered in goosebumps, and I experienced a little something they call a “fear boner,” and I had an accident in my pants. Before Robert Plant even started wailing. Which was at the :10 mark.

Since then, my ability to drop “Immigrant Song” into conversations that have nothing to do with music has become nothing short of startling. By which I mean obnoxious as hell. I don’t care if you’re asking me about whether you should buy lawn furniture off Craigslist, the answer is “Immigrant Song.” For years IS references, if you will, were not just off-topic but off-millennium.

But lately, with this Z-Trip mashup with Public Enemy…

and especially with this thunderous remake by Trent Reznor and Karen O (with a dark, bizarre mini-movie/trailer by David Fincher) for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”…

“Immigrant Song” is once again, at least for one last holiday movie season, timely. It’s been playing in my head a lot. Which might be why I heard even my office bathroom towel dispenser singing it to me.

(A super special thanks to super talented art director Ashleigh for Plantifying the video above.)

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Saturday, November 5th: Chicago to Arenal

[NOTE: This was the first day of a trip to Costa Rica I took back in November. I'm just now posting it because, well, I sometimes just plain forget I have a blog. Note also that if I post more of what I wrote, you'll actually be able to see my day by day descent into Imperial tallboy-fueled madness.]

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Got barked at by the American Airlines gate woman, who was evidently already having a long day by 6:28am. She made me check my bag and told not to look for it during my layover Dallas’ gorgeous DFW, that it it would be waiting for me in Liberia, CR. I told her I sure hoped so. (Bark!) I landed (with my bag, miraculously) at 2:00 in the afternoon. The Liberia Airport is pretty much a hangar.

The Costa Rican currency is the colon, and the exchange rate as of this morning when i got hosed at the DFW currency exchange was 1 USD = 526 colons. In countries where even ticky tacky crap like Skittles costs some huge number, I always like to buy a cup of coffee, break a trillion-whatever bill, and get my money bearings. So I pulled over at a roadside station and bought a bottle of buddy brand spray-on sunblock (I’m traveling solo, and even with my “Planet of the Ape” ape-length arms I can’t quite reach those hard to reach places) for what I later figured out was 18 American bucks. Not a good start.

There are only a few main highways (meaning paved and with only occasional potholes that would kill your car/life) connecting most everything in Costa Rica. My route had me taking the 1 from Liberia to Canas, then the winding 287 to Arenal. A friend’s Dad lives in Costa Rica and recommended the Bagacas Waterfall and Wild Cat Refuge. What I did find though was lots of incredible fruit, tamale and empanada vendors, and lots of Costa Rican campesinos who knocked off early (I don’t know when the farming day ends in this or any country), all of whom stared me down in a not unfriendly way.

On the road between Canas and Arenal (which somehow gets thinner and sketchier than the two lane Highway 1), I passed a woman and boy hitch-hiking. I wasn’t to keen on picking up strangers in my rented piece of Toyota Yaris shit, so I passed them. In the rearview I saw that the woman was very, very, like 14 months, pregnant, and a mile down the road was an exit marked “Hospital.” Needless to say I picked up the next hitch-hiker—a woman named Marcella/Mariciella/Maria Ciella (one of those three) who has ten kids ranging from 22 years old to five months. She spoke mostly no English, but she talked a mile a minute in Spanish and we laughed a lot. I dropped her off at a house where she was going to work as (based on what she mimed) either an unaccredited massage therapist or an unaccredited psychic.

The sun set earlier than I’d counted on, and it was dark as I drove the most dangerous stretch of the road to Arenal. I was tired. I swerved a lot.

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Church TV.

Having spent Saturday night in my apartment double fisting a 10 dollar bottle of shiraz and a 7 dollar bottle of Robitussin DM, I woke up pretty weird on Sunday morning, way earlier than I would’ve liked. As far as I know I didn’t do anything worthy crazy in the night. Nothing that lives up to those fabulous voiceover side-effect warnings on the Lunesta ads about how you won’t even know you drove a tractor you didn’t even know you had. But I did wake up on the couch with the TV turned to a channel showing a Sunday morning church service.

It completely threw me off. The color of choir robes hasn’t changed (why would they, I guess?), nor have tele-pastor haircuts. I could almost smell the churchy carpet. I had no idea they still televised church. They did when I was a kid, but I grew up down South, and besides, no programming genius had yet suggested that NFL pregame coverage start at 3am.

That got me thinking, if I watch every Bears game on TV—maybe even make a gameday ritual of ordering a pizza or making chili—no one will accuse me of not being a fan. So let’s say I want to be a more serious Christian, just, you know, not the tailgating, face-painting, Zubaz-wearing kind…can I do it by making a pre-sermon egg sandwich and watching TV?

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Interactions

God almighty, people, what’s it going to take to get you to like a Facebook post?! Babies? You want babies? Fine. Here, here’s a baby. Here’s some new Brangelina kid wearing a “Go-Go’s” onesie hugging a newborn otter pup on top of your college logo. I’ll photoshop that if it’ll up the “Like” count.

In the last few months I’ve become the community manager (a word that in most instances just means “the dude or chick who posts stuff to Facebook”) for a couple of different companies. While I want you to like my personal tweets and Facebook posts, I don’t care who “Like”s them. But my clients’ LPPs (“Like”s Per Post, an abbreviation I just made up and will make me barf if it ever catches on) is making me obsess unhealthily.

One of the clients is a film festival. A group of cinemaphiliac bona fide hepcats who seem to have better things to do than “Like” indie film trailers or fall Vans-first into “Tell us what you think” social media traps.

The other is a young man’s party tequila, for which I have at my disposal a lot of cheap, easy ways to get “Like”s. The fans “Like” being asked how their weekend was. If they’re ready to party. Who’s going to win the game. Sometimes I think if I ever just posted “BOOBIES!” to our wall, the “Like”splosion would make the internet itself blow up Macguyver style.

I love the challenge of speaking to two very different gangs. I don’t “Like” wanting to feel validated.

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