Friday, September 25, 2015

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

The other night I was thinking about the things I didn’t like about fall and I realized that last fall was possibly the greatest overall sports season of my life.  Almost all my teams did something amazing, it could scarcely have been more fun for me in the sports I played and there were so many moments which just made me proud to be a fan of sports in general.
                I don’t think I can talk about when things started getting better w/o adding how my signing on with Reading Corps and having something to go to every day, as well as a legit source of income, made me feel better overall.  But there were also a couple other endeavors which probably contributed equally to that feeling.  When Tom L. asked me to sub for his Fall League team.  And even though I hadn’t been invited to a team since high school, I just went out and had fun, not worrying about results.  Why would you when you’re a sub, anyway?  Then they made me part of the team and it was one of the most fun seasons I’ve had in anything for a while.  On top of this, I played a little pickup soccer, another thing I wasn’t afraid to throw myself into, given how the last year had gone.
                And once again The Big Hrbowski was in the Monday night RanHam League, which despite my continued improvement, I think, could probably be characterized as a disappointment.  As I’ve pointed out so much, one of the great things about being on a bowling team is all the things you can tinker with to get your team playing well.  The names, the music, the order, the balls, the amount of beverages. The problem last fall was that we were usually the only ones bowling on any given week, and rarely even saw the appearance of an opponent in another lane.  A couple times they had overbooked the alley as well, which pushed us back to where we just said Screw It and left.  But this year they’ve got new pin setters and we’re gonna do it right![i]
                Fall is when the best sports happens, IMO, and even beginning with the sports I wasn’t as invested in, it was amazing.  Being able to watch the Royals for so long was pretty amazing.  Yost is a terrible manager, so every time they advanced, it was all the more incomprehensible.  I loved the Wild Card game, and I would say I was rooting for them in that game, and in the playoffs after that.  But Game 7 couldn’t have been a more perfect cap.  The Royals and Yost did Royalsy, Yost-y things (bunting with one out, head-first slides into first) and made me kinda hope they lost. But then Gordon hits it and starts running at the very end and there were then always going to be what-ifs.  And even though the Twins weren’t in it, we got to watch former Twins be heroes, such as Josh Willingham and “Boom Goes the Delmon-ite” Young. [ii] This year, we’ve still got the Twins in the playoff chase and it’s now going to be really fun!
                Meanwhile, my Sounders, in the first season I really got to watch all their games, had one of the most excited final stretches of the season and came home with the Supporters’ Shield, aka Regular Season Championship.  Between that run and the playoffs, which ended against the hated Galaxy, I finally felt what it was to have a winning soccer team.  Meanwhile, closer to home, the Loons were doing even cooler things!  And losing in even more heartbreaking ways.
                John and Steve and I went to probably the coldest soccer game I ever hope to go to[iii] at the National Sports Center in November for the semifinal of the NASL against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.  It ended up having the most controversial ending I’ve seen, when the Strikers got a goal originally ruled offsides allowed in the final minutes to send it to extra time and eventually beat the Loons on penalties.  We ran into one of the leaders of the Dark Clouds, Raj, at the Riv later that winter and commiserated that abomination with him a little bit.
                And yet, having a good time at a cold, outdoor football game was still in the cards.  There have been a lot of good decisions my family made regarding Packers tickets in the past couple years. My mom trading tickets so we can have Gold Package games in the newly sheltered south end zone has worked out very well.  So has getting canvas bleacher-attaching folding seats. Both those helped Mike and ‘Eye even further enjoy the Packers’ trouncing of the Eagles later in November on their way to getting a first-round bye.
                And around that time, another out-of-state football team started their own improbable run.  When Ohio State’s QB went down the game before the B1G ‘ship, they didn’t think they had a chance.  But Then Cardale Jones turned out to be the best QB they have.  As in, they had potentially the three best QBs in the B1G.  That’s when even Katie got really interested in the new Playoff.  Which became absolutely the right move for the FBS. S-E-C! S-E-C!  Already ESPN’s getting excited about who every one of the conference teams won (because that’s difficult in the outta-conference week), and they have 10 teams in the top 25.[iv]  All I know is, as long as the Buckeyes play in Ohio and Urban Meyer is their head-coach, they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.

[i] Update: TBH is not going to happen this year at this point, unless we can get at least one more person who can commit full-time- Any takers?
[ii] Story: we’re watching the deciding game of the Orioles’ Division Series at Ol’ Pickety when Delmon comes to the plate, bases-loaded, down 1. Bebop says what we’re all thinking- “Don’t throw him a first-pitch mistake”- and he immediately hits a double.
[iii] Besides maybe the Snow Game.
[iv] Though, again, they still have to play each other, so I’m pretty sure it’s just not going to stay that way. And I also feel like coaches are notoriously power-conference-biased.

Friday, April 3, 2015

My Reality Teams

Everything in my life relates to sports. I acquired a new cologne yesterday which was actually just an old cologne I had, but then lost since I’ve moved back home.  It was like getting an ace starting pitcher back who is coming off of Tommy John surgery.  It’s probably not the exact same as you remember, but he’s still better than anyone else you got, and gives your whole staff a psychological lift.  But the way I see it, you can’t build a whole rotation around just one.  Which is why I put together a five-bottle staff.
            When I lost my first bottle of Velocity (by Mary Kay) in the move from Nordeast back to the Old Homestead, I was devastated.  I even wanted to go out and get some bottle by some designer or other to replace it.  I think it cost me personally more than I’ve paid for any other of my bottles[i], but I will use it as much as I think is necessary, because it’s really the ace of the staff. (That’s something a smart manager would say, right?)
            Real by American Eagle is my first bottle, so it has paid its dues, and as much as any of the other members of this staff travels pretty well.  Doesn’t lose its head, er, cap too much when it gets caught in a tight spot.  The pedigree on it is pretty good, even though it comes from a team I haven’t had that much affiliation with otherwise.  But I think simply its presence in my arsenal gives all the other bottles a little more genuineness.
            Even though I’m not sure about its cowboy ways or upbringing, McGraw by Tim McGraw adds a little flavor and variety into this rotation, which it was previously lacking.  A solid enough number three in a rotation that could use a bit of wildness.  Could work on its delivery a little bit.  
            Affection by Mary Kay is for sure one of the best pound-for-pound workers that I can turn to, and it travels extremely well.  Despite its small size, I don’t mind using it as a starter on various nights while I’m in town, and often do use it in relief if we’re on the road and get in a jam.
            Ocean by Bath & Body Works is an absolute wreck.  It’s a pretty tall drink of water (or some kind of fluid), and despite its shiny exterior, just can’t bring the stuff anymore.  I’ll use it every sixth or seventh time out, but it’s still frustrating how often its mechanics come undone and it sometimes just makes me want to cut it completely.
Ties don't play baseball. That'd be dumb- the tie game is much more fast-paced and high scoring than that.  So when you play a game like that, you need more players.
            The red tie is what I’ve for a long time now called my Power Tie.  It completely holds down my ensemble and always shows up.  You notice when someone’s wearing a tie of that color, and though I didn’t think much of it when I first got it, this piece of cloth has done enough to lock down a job in the starting lineup for years to come.
            At the small forward position is my Paisley tie- simply put, any collection of this type needs something along the lines of a paisley, and this particular one doesn’t mess around.  It’s pretty solid because it’s almost a Tron-type version of one, with simply the paisley pattern in bright blue on a black background.  It’s gotten oohs and ahhs from onlookers before, and for being one of the first ties I bought, it’s really stood the test of time.
            The Grey Artsy tie is pretty expensive, largely because it’s made out of silk, but it’s also an abstract pattern.  I think of this as more of a “fun” tie, but make no mistake, this one shows up to play.  Given the color scheme, it goes with pretty much anything, and isn’t so wide that you miss part of the big picture.  As an added bonus, it’s a material that’s really easy to actually tie, so I don’t end up stressing it out too much.
            The Blue-Striped tie is one of the least distinctive ties I have, because like its brother the red, it relies on doing one thing well, and it’s something it doesn’t do quite as well as Red.  But because it can do it in the other direction and in a different color, it’s a nice complement.
            The newest tie I have is the Men in Blazers Warpig tie.  I just trotted it out for the first time the other day, and I really like how it showed up.  There’s nothing incredibly commanding about it, but it knows what it’s doing out there, and absolutely makes a statement.  It’s a style that will stick around for a long time, and, if anyone looks close enough, can serve as conversation starter, and maybe even a conversation continuer.

Unfortunately, not all the ties can make the starting lineup, but I have at least three or four more that are solidly in my rotation at this point.
            The Green Checked tie has seen better days, having gotten an irremovable stain in a place that’s almost too-noticeable to wear anywhere people might be interested.  But it for sure used to be in my top two or three favorite ties and I try to break it out occasionally for old-times’ sake.
            The Solid Dark-blue (I do hesitate to say navy) tie is another really good one.  Everyone needs a reliable solid, and this one is definitely the right color of that for me, although I could also use a lighter version at some point.  What I would say is there is a textured pattern in back that if it had any of on the front, would give it the leap into my top three probably.  But it’s also just kind of bulky.
            Finally, I recently broke out an old tie that I had not used for a while on a night that I didn’t think I would care what tie I wore, and it turned out pretty awesome.  It was a tie with a red and light blue small checker-type pattern on it and it worked well as a classy look, which isn’t too closely inspected. (Official name to come...)

Surely these must be the only two sports and accessories Buckeye has a comparison to sports for, huh?  Well, you’re out of luck, pal.  I have at least one more.

The quarterback of my Monday mornings, and Tuesday, Wednesday and every other morning that I’m here, is my New York Mug.  It’s a classic mug with a few years and some dings on it, but there’s no carrier of coffee, tea or other hot liquid which I would rather use than this guy.
            My sister gave it to me as a present (apparently she’s been to New York more times than anyone can remember), and I’ve had an attachment to it ever since.  I don’t just like that it has a matte finish and a cool script for the words New York.  I appreciate more than merely the alternatingly distinct and generic skyline circling from one side of the handle all the way around and ending at the other.  And I more than forgive a little knot in the ceramic of the bottom which may have scratched more nice tables than I’m willing to admit.  But there is also something very satisfying for me as a denizen of a mid-sized city like Minneapolis declaring that there are definitely places out there which I would enjoy visiting and to be reminded of that every morning.[ii]
            It is the quarterback of my lifestyle because if I’m forced to take another of my mugs, its really not the same.  A couple others that I’ve had have completely shattered, but I’m not going to put this one in a situation where that could happen and would rather subject one I don’t like as much, such as the Class of ’06 one.

[i] Nothing
[ii] Suck it, Chicago

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


            Thoughts on Chattanooga: it seems like a really fun city, because much of what’s determining the size of the town, is the valley in which it sits.  I later learned that this is the Lookout Valley, named after the mountain, which is also one of the largest geographical attractions in the area.  It’s this very valley which makes you forget it’s there until you are right on top of it.
                Rolling through the Appalachians on our way back from Tybee Island, GA on spring break our sophomore year, our car was getting hungry right around the time we hit Chattanooga, Tennessee, a town most of us had heard of, but very few had seen.  Getting to anywhere that served food seemed to require us driving into the heart of the city, picking out a place, and then trying to park somewhere free.  As I recall, there was a Three Doors Down concert at a theatre down there, and so there seemed to be both less parking and fewer people about than you might expect for a Saturday with less going on.
The place we spotted was called Sticky Fingers, a barbeque joint which despite belonging to a small chain, seemed to be genuine, down-home fare.  We hit the head pre-meal, and as I was walking back towards the front of the store, I said mostly to myself, “Where are our friends”.  The hostess quipped right at that moment “You don’t have any friends”, and I immediately understood what kind of place I was in.
                We had no trouble getting a table quickly, which was fortunate for our stomachs. The meal didn’t disappoint either.  The ribs were fantastic, and we tried just about every variety with every sauce provided as well.  We proved their name correct (me probably more than anyone).  And we looked forward to stopping in next year on the same trip.
                Unfortunately it didn’t happen like that for everyone involved in the first adventure. Being in a car full of people more impatient as well as ignorant of the joys of Sticky Fingers, I was outvoted when we and another carful showed up the next year’s ride back and found that there may be a 30 minute wait.  So our car ate Qdoba instead, waiting about as long to sit down as it sounds like the other car did at Sticky Fingers.  But I’m not bitter or anything. Especially not because I was then 21 and could have had an adult beverage there.  We did make it back to the area for the same restaurant at a slightly different location the next year, but all my dreams were fulfilled once more.

                And this was the emotion dug back up when the Twins announced they are moving their AA affiliate to Chattanooga to take over the Lookouts (also a great name).  I was aware of the team of course, and I now have a connection reasonably close in Atlanta, that we could base camp from if we were to fly in and take a day trip. And bring him to the restaurant of my dreams which he momentarily kept me from.

Monday, August 4, 2014

City Ball

Watching the Giants and Phillies is making me think that the National League has about the best location not just amount leagues in the Majors, but among almost any American sport.  (Arguably the MLS western conference might be the second best such environment and dynamic among team locations.)
                The fact is, though, that most of these teams are almost inarguably the important teams in their area.  Cincinnati has the oldest professional baseball team in existence, Miami has a very large Cuban population, despite a terrible ownership history.  The Giants own the bay area, have the most beautiful stadium in the game, and a couple recent ‘ships under their belt, and the Phillies are still in their city!  But let’s take a look at a cross section of the most ideal locations for the National Pastime.
                Los Angeles: Despite the fact that they’ve only been in this area since 1958, this team is probably the most storied team of any kind on the west coast.  They’re the team of Sandy Koufax, Steve Garvey, and Kirk Gibson.  In the nineties they won six Rookie of the Year awards in a row.  They’ve played in the same place since moving from the Colliseum early in their residence.  They have the best announcer in sports.  And while they haven’t won a Series since ’88, the team has probably the brightest future.
                Best current pitcher in the game; one of the most exciting young players in the game; a giant new TV contract and an owner who is most famous in the town for his accomplishments in another sport.  And they’ve done it all while surviving a team that plays an hour away, but insists on calling themselves “Los Angeles”, another team in San Diego and one of the worst ownership fiascos in recent memory.  What helps the Dodgers here is that their uniforms are just classic, they have a rival in the Giants who are generally competitive and pretty close (by American standards) and did I mention more money than God?  Yes, a lot of people might argue that the basketball team still owns the town, but I have my own axe to grind with them and that team hasn’t even been the best basketball team in their town the past couple years.
                St. Louis: I hate the Cardinals.  They were named after the trim and socks’ colors on their uniform around the time of their founding, having first taken the name Perfectos.  For a time, they weren’t even the only St. Louis Cardinals (the Chicago Cardinals of the NFL having moved there around the middle of the century).  They kicked another, lamer-color-named team out of their city, and sent them to another place which liked birds.  Then they stole the design of that team’s park for their new park.  Their fan territory infringes further across their state then it should and into most of the western Mason-Dixon states.  They’ve stymied the potentially great stories of the ’67 Red Sox, the ’82 Brewers (thank you!) and the ’11 Rangers.  They have the second most championships in baseball, but their fans still complain about a measly first-base call in a (non-deciding) Game 6 against a team with only one championship in their history.[i]   But they are the best baseball city in America.
                Their fans show up year after year.  They do benefit from a lot of exposure in TV commercials, given that they are owned by a certain famous beer company.  But year after year they also have great pitching, role players who are pushed to new heights, and an environment that loves baseball above all else.
                Milwaukee:  As a Packer fan and Twins fan, this pains me.  But I also kind of feel for the place. Their current franchise is an expansion club, and they’ve only had one World Series appearance, which wasn’t in the league they are currently in.  But the first club they had was in too much of a hurry to leave, despite a couple Series appearances (including one win over the Yankees), and some of the greatest players of the generation, playing in a city that loved them.
                Sure the city is largely Packer territory, but they take baseball fandom to new (if drunken) heights.  Their ballpark is incredibly spacious and breezy.  They originated the costumed-fan races that have swept the league and for once there’s something besides Bernie Brewer sliding down three levels to come to the ballpark to watch.  Who cares if there’s probably way too much Miller Lite at the park?  They’ve got anti-heroes, cast-offs and rebels on a team which will show their true colors down the stretch, one way or another.  They used to have the greatest hat logo in baseball and they often still pay tribute to it.  And of course, despite being on the outskirts of the city, fans troop out every game-day to get sloshed in the parking lot while playing bags, and then mosey in for some more beer and delicious brats.  And maybe, for the time, some winning baseball.

[i] Yeah, it was their cross-state rival, but the Royals also had been down 3-1 in the Series.  So no sympathy, Redbirds.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Brand Doctor

                The biggest problem with McDonald's is that they are just so omnipresent.  They are going to have a stake in everything, everywhere, always.  I don’t think I have a problem with them sponsoring so many things, because I don’t inherently support McDonald’s when I, say, watch a World Cup soccer game, but rather just get more exposed to the restaurant chain than I would like to.  One of the biggest problems with this country being so money-driven and class-conscious is that people think having very little money is an excuse to have very little class.  The times I have gone to any kind of Mickey D’s in the past two years or so are those times when I am on the road with my family and they’re buying.  As they pointed out at the end of our Wyoming trip last year- ‘We can’t always afford to spend a lot of money on dinner.’  So I suppose I should be thankful that I live in a country that allows cheap meals sometimes.  But when you make a place like McDonalds part of your regular lifestyle, you miss out on so much joy in life that isn’t just out of reach because you, say, can’t afford a sit-down restaurant, or have very little time.  It’s just SO easy to go grocery shopping and have some frozen pizzas and just try your best to have a sit-down meal.  Your kids need to be able to feed themselves, they need to feel like they’re part of a family and that they’re a self-sufficient breed, and they need to be getting proper nutrients.  No matter what you get at McDonalds, it’s just not going to be as good for you as something you make for yourself. 
All of these consequences build on themselves, and this is to me why McDonalds is so evil.  They’ve just insinuated themselves into the lives of a certain class of people to such a large extent, that a lot of people think of it as just a way of life.  Like, this is where normal people eat on a regular basis- which is sad, because McD’s has a very effective method of making it seem that way, and the more it starts to seem that way, the more it becomes true.  Their slogan now, which they haven’t changed in a decade and probably won’t ever again[i] is “I’m lovin’ it!”  What is “it”?  It is everything you can possibly imagine, because this place is everywhere and everything.  You can’t escape it.  First of all: support Mom and Pop shops as much as you possibly can.[ii]  Secondly: Fix your own meals as much as you possibly can.  Because while the Krocs have done a very good job of making you think that you should only eat stuff that’s familiar to you, that’s the furthest thing from the truth.  One of their most recent commercials is some guy who just became a rich pro athlete- but hey, he stays true to his roots by buying all his friends McDonald’s.  I’m glad we’re not friends, because I would be telling him to take us out for something good, like sushi.  Like good sushi.  When I go to a store, I’m suspicious of things that are too inexpensive.  I would rather pay more for a superior product which I don’t have to replace or otherwise regret getting sooner than I’d like.

However, there are some soccer sponsors I do respect, and one of the reasons I respect this one so much is in large part due to their commercials.  There are several really good Heineken commercials, but I think one of my favorites has to be the one with the guy chasing down some chick who left her business card case in the cab.  (Be warned, the version of this that appears on TV is much shorter.)  He goes to a place called The Chop and gets a shave.  He later goes to a place called Step Sisters.  He learns to swing dance.  Then he ends up at a jazz joint called the Broken Note.  Here he buys the piano man a Heinie and plays a few notes on the piano.  Then he’s quickly out of cards and hasn’t found the lady, whose name is apparently Eve.  Eve is both a great name for an attractive chick, because it is the name of the first woman, but it’s also quite possibly just the name (a great name) of an upper level restaurant which he soon finds from a giant neon sign.  He gives the red-haired hostess the case, as if to ask who he can give it back to, and she leads him to some kind of private urban gondola where they share a couple cold ones.  What’s great about this particular Heinie commercial to start with, is that each of these places just has such a perfect name.  And while other commercials for Heineken have featured men with a lot of talent wooing ladies, they’ve mostly been dudes who are offensively over-confident in whatever environment they enter.  This is one with a guy who, while obviously not shy, definitely doesn’t know what to expect from any part of this adventure, but he’s able to roll with anything.  Especially a hot redhead[iii].  The other great part is that while some of the other commercials take place on a cruise or somewhere foreign, even though the main character is most likely American, this ad made the correct choice of setting with a large (American-looking) city, probably NYC.  Thus we don’t have the subliminal message that you need to be rich to be as suave as the guys in the commercial.  You just need to drink Heinie and have some class.

When I was growing up, my dad had a Chevy S10 with a flatbed in which he would transport us around the neighborhood in the spring and summer.  It was black, had a small cab, a stick shift and he later sold it for about $2000.  But Chevys from there on were always synonymous with trucks for me- the machines of Men, which separated us from the Canadians and the French.  When I was trying to even out the themes in T-shirts I owned, I found one with a Chevy logo at Target and it became one of the only tops I own that doesn’t honor some sports team.  But I do feel like Chevy is a team in its own right.  It was the car answer to the Coke-Pepsi rivalry[iv].  I was on team Chevy.
And Chevy has done a lot of things right to close that gap, especially in the truck department.  They always had the better slogan for their trucks- Like a Rock.  It even had its own song: “I was strong as I could be…”   The Chevy logo is simple and classic as well.  It’s one shape, and while the outline of the shape is essentially 12 segments or so, they do a really good job of emphasizing that it’s pretty much just two really thick lines that cross each other.  You can see on the grill of most of their vehicles, that the long, horizontal line sits on the distinguishing middle bar, with the thicker, vertical line hangs out un-assumingly in the middle, only slightly dangling off either side.  (This simplicity of design was something Ford still hasn’t nailed down.)  And the name Chevy has itself a very American appeal, given that the full name, Chevrolet, is obviously French in origin.  You both ignore that root and honor the forebears who shortened it in this country.
Lately Chevy has been very much trying to emphasize its place in Americana, and is in my opinion succeeding.  Their campaign in the middle of the last decade was “An American Revolution”.  They introduced a bunch of new cars, and brought back many of the old ones.  Everyone loves and knows the Camaro and the Corvette.  But the Impala has a place in the urban landscape of this country and the Suburban was the first major vehicle for people who had a lot of stuff and/or people to carry around, but didn’t want to drive a creepy van.  And I don’t care what people say, the El Camino might be the best vehicle ever, and the granddaddy of all coupe utilities.  But while not all the new vehicles have stuck, I think those who own the Equinox love the name of the vehicle at the very least.  There may not be much of a point to the SSR, either, but let’s be honest- it’s pretty sweet that it exists.  I think they’ve done a great job of solidifying their identity- as a company that takes risks, but knows what it’s done right.
The fact is that I haven’t been a huge Ford backer historically and they haven’t done a lot in this area lately to make that change.  They do just tend to rest on their laurels a little bit.  But there are a few things they’ve had working against them in the past few years.  For one, they can’t help that a lot of Canadians wanted the Ranger, inherently reducing its appeal in America.  And they definitely got hit by the brunt of the recession.  The new image they are trying to create is doing really well for them.  They are fully embracing the eco-revolution and from everything I’ve heard the Fiesta and Focus are really fun to drive.  The main thing that has gotten my attention is their new grill, which I think is more of a representative for your company than people tend to give credit to.  We’ve known for a long time that you want generally to stick with one style across all of your vehicles, but the main conundrum was how to make yours unique compared to every other car company.  Could I look at your car or truck and say “Oh, that’s a ­­______”?  Ford has succeeded with their new-style grills which look equally appropriate on any type of vehicle[v] and are especially identifiable, more so even than Chevy lately.
But what they haven’t been able to do is get a logo that you only have to see part of, the way you do with Chevy, Coke or McDonald’s.  The Ford logo has been the same for a long time, but now that a lot of auto manufacturers are using ellipses for their main logo, it has become so much less unique, despite its trademarked status.  What they probably should do is make a close-up of part of the Ford script within the enclosure.  Something with white-on-blue, ala the Coke tail, which they’ve leveraged so deftly.  The only thing I can think of they may have that people think of them in even the top 5 for is the color blue.

[i] Until the sh*t hits the fan and it becomes something like “It wasn’t just us!”
[ii] I’m glad we live in the age of Yelp!, we have a means of telling what places of those we’ve never heard of are actually good.
[iii] “Fine! We’ll go somewhere private and have sex! Settle down!”
[iv] Which really isn’t one anymore.
[v] Even on the embarrassingly wide array of cars that are going by the moniker “Crossover” these days.  Can we just admit that some of them are essentially Station Wagons?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Under the Radar Television

                FX is a channel that I have gained more respect for over the recent years.  The shows it has are usually as well thought out as any on premium television and it has simply become a network known for trusting showrunners to do their thing and just create really good TV.  Such was the case with the show Louie, through which the network lays claim to the guy many agree is America’s funniest of the moment, Louis CK.  They have for a long time had the cult favorite It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and even shows which I’ve seen almost none of, such as Justified, but from everything I have heard and seen of them are also really good.  But my favorite at this point has to be The Americans.
                The title was the first thing that appealed to me.  It summons a jingoistic part of me, which, as I started watching, was quickly leveraged me to root for the main couple, who feel as strong of feelings for their country as I and a large chunk of us felt, say, just after 9/11.  And while the commercials for the show pressed onto your cerebral cortex with visual stimulation and even the opening credits built a fantastic fast-paced montage of Soviet and American images juxtaposed, the scenery in the show (save the people) seemed purposefully dull.  That also juxtaposed nicely with how fine-tuned and fast-paced the plot and character development became.
                The first season was exceedingly tight, and bore itself like a show already hitting its prime.  They weren’t afraid to dispatch or scale back the roles of certain characters.  And everything about the backstabbing, camaraderie and intrigue made me want to have participated in an era that I only lived during about four years of.[i]  There is a good amount of action and suspense, as well as misunderstandings and screw-ups that add to the authenticity of the show.  Some of the most dastardly things these people do aren’t even physically violent.  Philip (the husband), has his alter-ego Clark marry the secretary at his neighbor’s FBI division, who he has convinced he’s an Internal Affairs investigator, so that he can continue to use her as his informant.
                What strikes me about it too, that brings special appeal to me, is the magnitude of how serial it is.  So much so, that I can’t really tell you what has happened episode to episode, but more just over the course of one season of another.  As I’m starting to figure out some of the beats of shows, I start to see where they head sometimes.  Since the end of last season, Philip and Elizabeth’s oldest, Paige, has started to stop trusting her parents.  Earlier this season, it led to a fantasticly awkward encounter in her parents’ bedroom at night.  But as a parallel of their relationship with her, the couple has had to deal with the aftermath of a massacre which left their best friends’ oldest an orphan.  This all seems to be pointing to a watershed moment where Paige either learns the truth or is told it.  And while the show has in no way been predictable, this event would actually contradict one of the central tenants of the show.  But I also think it would strengthen the Jennings’ as a family and the Philip and Elizabeth’s identity as both a couple and operating partners.
The season finale a couple weeks ago also did not disappoint.  At the risk of spoiling too much, I’ll just say that this show has an uncanny ability to bring everything full circle, both in respect to themes addressed throughout the season as well as the collision courses of certain characters. There are very few wasted scenes or characters, and while there is no giant cliff-hanger ending, it’s clear we are in for so much more in coming seasons.
What appeals to me in this tv show as much as anything, is what it really gives me of the 80’s.  Since I mostly see that decade from the perspective of what music and movies we get from them, there is very little more appealing to me about it than the Cold War.  But they do a good job of showing how bland I think we all truly understand it was, and maintaining the distinct J’ ne se quoi of the decade.  The little I remember of it from my own life is a lot of beige.  I remember boxy cars and I wish I remembered more sweaters.  Sooo many sweaters…  Fashion-wise, it’s not better than the sixties, of course.  But when viewed through the espionage side, it’s way more fun.  Just as espionage without as much technology as today is itself way more fun.

[i] Although even as late as ’95-’96 (which I remember most of), I think there were enough leftover feelings and suspicion around the country, and from my parents more specifically, that I probably got a little taste of it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Reasonable Call for Attention

When I was in church yesterday, I was sitting next to one guy who seemed to be there by himself, in front of one couple who was probably in their forties, and had a younger couple in front of me who walked in a couple minutes late. 
It has increasingly become my habit to go to the so-called Last Chance Mass at OLL, simply because that’s when it ends up working out best for me during the weekend, and it’s pretty close by.  The only part of it I don’t like is that I haven’t been able to find a bike rack around to save my life (or my soul).  But yesterday I was psyched, because coming down 2nd St., I found one sitting just outside the Punch Pizza.  I was able to both be smug about the fact that I found a bike rack close to somewhere else I wanted to patronize, and also take that of someone who maybe wanted to patronize a place I don’t like so much.  Because- it’s not like they’re going to tow a bike for biking in a spot that person isn’t going to.
                Thus I ended up being much more punctual than usual for this Mass, but with the added worry of not being sure if my light is going to be taken off my bike.  It looks enough a part of the thing that I don’t think I should worry, but I would say there’s still about a 1-in-20 chance that someone takes it.  The light is kind of a piece of crap- plus I also just don’t want to keep it on my person the fewer clothes I start to wear as the weather gets warmer.  And this particular Mass is pretty short, while invading the daylight hours at this point, so all the less opportunity for some petty thief.  Nonetheless, it all added to an increased amount of stress throughout Mass, so I suppose I might have been making too big of a deal about what happened at the sign of peace, but it was still just so far out of the spectrum of my experience that I almost could not deal with it.
                The sign of peace came and I turned to give the sole guy next to me a handshake.  Then I turned around and gave each one of the couple behind me a firm sign of peace as well.  But I turned around to do the same to the couple in front of me and……. nothing.  I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t really do anything, except mentally write half of this out in my head.  In retrospect, was there something I could have done?  I’m honestly asking.  Should I have cleared my throat?  Should I have just stuck my hand out so if one of them sees it out of the corner of their eye, something might come of it?  I had a theory, that they were sort of SoP’d out at that point, having just been given huge hugs by the couple in front of them.  That would explain a lot, especially because they may not have known that couple and it was just something that happened.  That might have used up all their love.  And peace.  (They also may have known them, but I may still have reason to be mad at that couple in front.)
                What is it with all this hugging?  I hope they were all like Best Men and Maids of Honor in each others’ wedding or something like that, because what other reason would you have to justify such a possible invasion of their personal bubbles, not to mention taking up enough time for them to be turning around and giving the guy behind them, who isn’t there with anyone, the sign of peace?[i]  Not that I have anything inherently against hugging.  Quite the contrary.  I think hugs are very important.  I just think what they should essentially mean is “I love you”.  And in that vein, if there are people I am out there hugging, it’s because I almost literally see them as my family.  I’ve heard more and more about humans just needing daily contact with each other lately, because it’s unhealthy not to get a certain amount.  Hugs are a good way to do that, I suppose- but so are high-fives, handshakes, chest-bumps, even the occasional hip-bump[ii].  Just allow the rest of us to share in the human contact, when given certain time constraints.

[i] To be fair to the couple two rows ahead, the people just ahead of me still had plenty of Sign of Peace interlude to notice me.  I hate to say it, but this whole thing is very typical of this church.
[ii] Which I’m actually pretty sure I invented my junior year of high school with my Hungarian friend Dani.