Saturday, June 21, 2008

Random Revelations

Yesterday I had a revelation: Most people would rather feel good than do good. I would put myself in that category. I think it goes back to the belief that my mom emotionally abandoned me at puberty. Maybe I feel that the world owes me, and that's why I'm not willing to make significant sacrifices for others. I don't have the faith that my sacrifices will be rewarded, since my devotion to my friends has so often been unrequited. Although my lack of faith predates my friends' post-collegiate abandonment of me. It probly has a lot more to do with my mom's abandonment. I think this explains most of the selfishness in the world. People get hurt when they're children, and they grow up to believe that they need to look out for just themselves, because no one else will.

Of course, as we all know, doing good does not always bring good fortune. That's why one of the age-old questions is: Why do bad things happen to good people? In high school I thought of an answer to this question. I was very impressed with myself, as I've never heard anyone offer a solution to this theological riddle. I don't think I've ever presented my answer publicly before. I've mentioned it to a few friends, in high school and college and maybe a few years ago. I'll preface it by saying it presupposes a benevolent deity/universal soul/life-force. The answer goes like this: If only good things happened to good people, there'd be no virtue in being good. People would only do good so that good things would happen to them. Whadda ya think? Pretty cool, huh? I'm sure I'm not the first to think of that, but I'm pretty sure I came up with it on my own. Not that I put a lot of thought into it. It was just one of those things that comes to you, like a bolt from the blue.

Watching The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy probly put me in this frame of mind. I watched the BBC TV series from '81. It was a chore getting through all 6 half-hour episodes. The special effects were horrible, and the lighting for the interior scenes was painfully bright. Some of the actors were good, but some were not, and the miserably low production value quickly sapped my will to finish the series. I did though, and at least it gave me the right to harangue those H2G2 (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) fanboys (and -girls) who think the movie was a crime against nature. The movie is so much fucking better than the TV series! I would say it's even better than the books. The real test is how does it stack up against the original incarnation of H2G2: the radio series. In my opinion, it's better than that as well. So take that, you H2G2 cultists! The movie is the best version of the saga yet! And I hope they make a million sequels, because the movie fucking rocks! Yeah!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Summer of Sad

I just plugged in the floor lamp next to the recliner in the living room. That's the only way to turn it on. If I could only give you one piece of advice, it would be this: Don't buy the cheapest floor lamp at Target. It might look cool with its sleek, metallic design and its touch-sensitive pole, but it will only let you down.

I considered titling this post "The Summer of My Discontent," but I thought it was too cliche. Hopefully my backup choice will be adequate. This evening I finally accepted the fact that I'm sad. I'm really sad and lonely and it doesn't look like things are gonna change anytime soon. Just accepting it makes it easier to handle. I'm still waiting to really cry and break my 18-year dry spell. It's hard to overcome sadness when you won't let yourself feel it. I keep trying to convince myself that I can let go, that there is a safety net to catch me. (I'm the safety net.)

On the bus today it occurred to me that joy and pain can't be separated. I tried to keep them apart, and doing so tore me apart. But now I know I can hold them at the same time, one in each hand, without dropping either. They're connected by a string. If I drop one, eventually the other will drop too. The trick is to hold onto the pain as tightly as I cling to the joy, but no more.

Well, enough of that New Age nonsense. The Celtics won the NBA title last night in a ridiculous Game 6 rout, 131-92. I'm glad they waited 'til they were back in Boston. Clinching the championship at home is much more gratifying. The game was over by halftime. I was disappointed in the Lakers' lackluster effort. The Celtics' defense was almost impenetrable, but L.A. didn't show much heart. KG's postgame interview was insane. He went crazy. They bleeped him at one point, but I don't know if it was necessary. It made me happy to see that. His hug with Bill Russell was esp. touching. I wish I'd felt more jubilant about it. Oh well. It is just a game after all.

Yesterday I watched the "video" (back in 1975 they used film) for Cheech & Chong's "Basketball Jones" on YouTube. I love that song, but good lord is that film racist! All the black folks had huge lips and most of 'em didn't have eyes. You could see the black cheerleaders' panties under their skirts, and each pair had a day of the week printed on them. I'll leave it to your imaginations to interpret that sight gag. It seems kinda misogynistic to me. Maybe I'm overreacting, but I think they ruined an endearing, surprisingly good comic song with a raunchy, racist promotional film.

(For my fellow "Basketball Jones" trivia lovers, you might be interested to know that the song features such musical luminaries as George Harrison on lead guitar, Billy Preston on organ, Carole King on electric piano, and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas on backing vocals. I don't know about you, but that information blew my mind. No wonder it's such a sweet song!)

The main factor behind my emotional opening-up has probly been the recurring insomnia I've had in the past week. Even though I slept a lot last night and this morning, I didn't feel quite rested. I hope it doesn't persist. That would make the whole process of getting back on my feet a lot harder. But if I keep opening up, I should be alright.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Father's Day Miracle

I spent Father's Day at the Minnesota Zoo with my parents and encountered a bizarre example of antisemitism. It was in the Shark Reef aquarium, as I recall. I saw a big, disturbing fish with a face that looked like a human caricature. It was identified on the accompanying chart as a "Goliath Grouper/Jewfish." That threw me for a loop. As the Wikipedia entry makes clear, "Jewfish" was dropped in 2001 for the "more considerate" sobriquet, "goliath grouper." Ironic that the replacement includes a reference to the Old Testament. Apparently the Minnesota Zoo didn't get the memo. Perhaps a more conscientious citizen would've recommended to a staff member that they get rid of the rather offensive name. That didn't even occur to me. I'd rather just laugh and blog about it.

The entire afternoon was consumed by the Zoo. Can I just say one thing? There are a LOT of fuckin' kids runnin' around these days. I easily exceeded my kid limit for the day. Nuthin' wrong with a little whinin' and cryin' and whatnot, but having to listen to dozens of kids act in this manner for over 4 hours is asking a bit much. This irritation mixed with my complicated relationship with my parents and made a delicious gravy. I mean a cranky gravy. Even though it was a beautiful day, we were out in the sun for a long time, so by late afternoon my patience was wearing thin.

The Zoo was nowhere near the thrill it was when I was a kid. The factors contributing to my non-enjoyment were as follows: being a 30-year-old guy alone with my parents, without any friends and/or a girlfriend, questioning the morality of keeping animals in captivity, seeing these animals often just lying around or looking kinda unhappy and, again, the kids. The best/worst moment of the trip came near the end when a Chilean pudu ("the world's smallest deer") stuck its nose through the chicken wire to eat a leaf. This cat-sized creature got one of its adorable little horns stuck in the wire, but managed to extricate itself and pull the leaf through the wire. Dad said, "That alone was worth the price of admission." I agreed with him, though I also found it rather sad. That animal shouldn't be caged for our amusement, even if it does impress on us a greater sense of our communion with nature. It's not a fair trade-off.

Being surrounded by kids got me thinking about a belief that seems to be common, although I'm not sure I've ever heard it articulated in person. I've heard it on The McLaughlin Group (haughtily ejaculated from the Jabba the Hut-like maw of the Washington Times' "conservative" columnist Tony Blankley) and maybe read it online, but it has never issued forth from the mouth of someone in my midst. It is the belief that not having kids is selfish. (Now, if it turns out this belief is rare, the following rejoinder will seem rather quixotic.)

This notion really pisses me off. Am I to believe that people have kids out of a sense of societal duty? Of course they don't. They have kids because they want to (or because the condom broke). With 6.67 billion people in the world (according to an exhibit at the Zoo) and 300 million in the U.S., does any sane, non-Crazy Christian person believe we need to increase the human population? If anything, we need to drastically reduce the population. Climate Change, Peak Oil and environmental pollution are symptoms of overpopulation. I agree with those who think that the American and European lifestyles are a problem, but even with a lifestyle change in our countries, the world population will have to shrink to cope with Global Warming and the depletion of fossil fuels.

Well, now that I've gotten that out of my system, I can get back to the reason for the weekend: Father's Day. It began yesterday when my folks picked me up in the morning for a tour of the Guthrie, followed by a perambulation through the Mill City Farmer's Market, lunch at spoonriver next door and a matinee performance of The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde. My friend Noah is Assistant Director for the show, so I was eager to see it. He didn't disappoint. The play was quite good and very much in the vein of his company, the Live Action Set, with some dance sprinkled over a nonlinear narrative. Constance was the rather tragic wife of Oscar Wilde. I'd never even heard of her.

After the play we drove to my boyhood home in the 'burbs. I mowed the second half of my parents' alpine lawn to give my dad a much-appreciated break. That evening I felt sad. I've been really lonely, off and on, for the last month or so, but last night it was OK, because I was able to be sad in front of my parents. It's been almost 6 years, maybe longer, since I felt like I could be sad in their presence. Eventually we all wound up downstairs in the den watching Rudy on the USA Network. This movie has a special significance for us, because my dad went to Notre Dame and I grew up watching their football games with him, listening to this generally genial man yell at the screen whenever the Fightin' Irish fucked up. Our eyes welled up as we watched the final reel. How cliche can ya get? We managed to avoid the predictable "I love you"'s and climactic bear hug, but only because we lacked the courage to open up that wide.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Game 3 of the NBA Finals continued my partiality for the Lakers, although it made more sense to root for them since the Celtics were up 2-0 and, when my loyalties are this lukewarm, I always want a long, close series. L.A. was not impressive in letting the Celtics take the lead in the 3rd Quarter and keep it close 'til the end. But I'll stick with my pre-Finals prediction: Celtics in 7.

This was a pretty uninspiring day in the life of an unemployed guy. The boredom is starting to get to me. That might be the best motivation for getting a job. Although I might take a vacation in July. I'm comfortable with the idea of not finding a job this summer. The only question is: What would my parents think? They don't know I cashed out my 401(k), and that knowledge would probly upset them. I can't let their disapproval dissuade me. Parents can be extremely aggravating. My dad said I shouldn't base my decisions on his opinion, but I know damn well he'd be upset if I told him about the 401(k) and went on vacation.

I walked to the Big K at Lake & Nicollet to check out the A/C window units. I just checked the prices for future comparison with Target. So far I haven't needed even a fan for my bedroom, which I don't think would help much anyway. The previous occupants of my apartment said an A/C unit would be mandatory for the summer. Maybe my luck will hold out and these gorgeous 70-something-degree days will be the warmest of the summer. That isn't likely, but the power of prayer should not be underestimated.

In the late afternoon I went to the park at Lyndale & 33rd to shoot hoops. As luck would have it, a group of guys gravitated to the court after I arrived. We played 5-on-5 full-court, a rare treat for me, especially since the play was at my skill level, plenty of guys were better than me and the mood was fairly easy-going. Over time there got to be more arguments over fouls, but it was a better atmosphere than most pickup games I've been in.

I left the park at 7, feeling weak with a troubling sensation in my chest. It wasn't pain, but I was worried I'd pushed myself too hard, even though I hadn't been sucking wind or choking on phlegm or seeing stars. I got home, drank some water, stretched and showered. Duane showed up while I was in the shower. Game 3 had just started, so he took a seat on the couch to watch.

I ordered a pizza from Galactic at halftime. When it arrived, to my delight, my friend Chris was the deliverer. It was the first time he'd delivered for me. He invited me to join him and Dustin at the Bulldog that night. I accepted and, after the game, headed over to the Bulldog. I had a Hennepin beer at the bar and awaited their arrival. I was there for 40 minutes, but Chris and Dustin never showed. Somewhat disappointed but unperturbed, I paid for the beer and went home.

That's how I got to where I am now, still trying to shake the buzz of the Hennepin. My roommate Beth just hopped in the shower. She's pretty cool. I'll probly have some things to say about her this summer. Hopefully this week I'll have more interesting things to talk about than the Freaks and Geeks DVD's I've been renting from Hollywood. (In a word, brilliant. I wish my adolescence had been that redemptive.)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

I Won't Let the Celtics Hurt Me Again

I've been watching a lot of the NBA playoffs during my unemployment. But, since 90% of the games are on cable, I've had to go to bars or my parents' house to catch the games. Luckily, the Finals are on ABC, so I was able to stay home on Thursday night for Game 1. Unluckily, it wasn't much fun watching the game alone. I was glad when Duane invited me over to watch Game 2 this evening.

Although it was much better than watching alone, I still had trouble enjoying the game. My loyalties are confused in this series. Traditionally, I've been a Celtics fan. My dad's from Connecticut, so I grew up rooting for their great teams of the '80s that featured my idol, Larry Bird, (Minnesotan) Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge and their many hard-working, fundamentally sound role players. The Lakers were the flashy, arrogant embodiment of the triumph of style over substance: in other words, the perfect representatives of L.A.

There was also a racial subtext, as the Celtics were an unusually white NBA team and the Lakers, like most NBA teams, were predominantly black. That may have had something to do with my conception of the Celtics as "hard-working" and "fundamentally sound" and the Lakers as "flashy" and "arrogant." However, my liberal guilt was assuaged in the early '90s by college basketball. (Do I need to clarify that it was men's college basketball? Would it offend anyone if I didn't? I kinda resent that imposition. Considering this is a blog, and a rarely-read one at that, I probly shouldn't worry about it.)

I became enamoured of the Runnin' Rebels of UNLV (University of Nevada-Las Vegas), a high-flying collection of African-American youths dripping with flash and arrogance. And when these showboats were upset in the 1991 Final Four by Duke, I became equally scornful of the prim and proper, predominantly white goody two-shoes on the Blue(-blooded) Devils. My apparent colorblindness as a basketball fan was reinforced in '92 and '93 by my helpless devotion to the Fab Five of Michigan, whom I got to see in person at both their Final Fours.

Even though I'm still a KG fan and like Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, I can't quite convince myself to root for them. They disappointed me by letting the Hawks push them the distance in the first round. After that I figured they didn't have what it took to win the title, so I abandoned the bandwagon. I was only going to support them if I thought they had a chance to go all the way. Once I gave up hope in their championship chances, I switched my allegiance back to LeBron in the second round and then the Pistons in the conference finals.

But in each series, Boston overcame stunningly inconsistent play (world-beaters at home, zombies on the road) to prevail, outlasting King James and the Cavs in a Game 7 nail-biter and besting Detroit in 6. They improved each round, though not spectacularly enough to win me back. My tender basketball heart had been hurt by them once before and needed more time to heal. Also, the Lakers had gotten on my good side by dispatching the Spurs, the gritty, tiresome 4-time champs who outlasted their welcome.

Watching Games 1 and 2, I found myself pulling for the Lakers, in spite of all the reasons to pull for the Celtics and the weak grounds for supporting L.A. Kobe Bryant is a great player, but not that cuddly. Most people seem to have forgotten, but there was that whole "rape" thing a couple years ago. It never went to trial, but still. Pau Gasol is good, but not particularly graceful or compelling. Lamar Odom is silky smooth, but not slick enough to consistently slip past defenders. None of the other players has established a salient style. They each step up and deliver when called upon, but, for me, the team hasn't developed a personality.

Really what I want is a well-played, hard-fought Finals. I'm basically just a basketball purist, after all. But I have to admit that I'm happier when "my" team wins, and, at this point, my team seems to be the Los Angeles Lakers. Although I have a feeling I would not be happy to see them hoist the trophy. Maybe my infidelity to the Celtics has ruined my enjoyment of their playoff run, and, even if they do win it all, I won't be able to share in the joy. That would be a shame. You see, non-sports fans, this is a lot like a relationship. Once the trust is broken, it's hard to go back.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Name of the Game

I just read a great, short essay by Richard Heinberg, probly the best Peak Oil writer of them all. You can read it here. For those who'd rather not go to all that trouble, here's the last line:

Taking in traumatic information and transmuting it into life-affirming action may turn out to be the most advanced and meaningful spiritual practice of our time.
That's what I've been trying to do, off and on, for the last 3 years. It's pretty amazing when someone describes your life's mission in one sentence. Although I would add one thing. Not only am I trying to transmute traumatic information into life-affirming action, I'm also trying to transmute it into life-affirming and energizing art (which may be redundant).

I haven't been terribly faithful to my mission, but there's some emotional business I need to attend to first. I know fulfilling the mission will help with my emotional issues, but dealing with them directly will help more and enable me to "quest" without being weighed down by any baggage.