Superbowl Hostage Crisis

I have a problem with being a poor sport. This extend both to sports that I actually play and to spectator sports. The Superbowl this past Sunday was certainly no exception— in fact, it was pretty much the opposite of an exception. I watched it at my place with one friend who complained that I alternated between bouts of ‘passive aggressive’ (his formulation) gloom and insufferable smugness, and left during halftime. Before he left, I tried pointing out that my behavior couldn’t really be described as ‘passive aggressive’, since that would mean that it was somehow aimed at him, to get a rise or inflict suffering— and the truth is that I was far too grimly preoccupied by the game to give a damn about him. His response: ‘Well, I guess when it comes to passive aggression,  it’s all in the eye of the beholder’— which makes some sense, I have to admit.

This left me with one guest for the second half, which was probably one too many. Somehow, I’d always assumed that sports would mean less and less to me as I got older, but in fact, the exact opposite has happened— the weekend leading up to the Superbowl, I had two different dreams about the Patriots losing. This lucky soul who got to watch the game with me was a guy— a perfectly kind guy, really— whom I’d only met for five minutes the day before, but extended a invitation to join him once I ascertained that (a) despite being from New York, he wasn’t a partisan Giants fan and (b) he had no other plans and was planning to watch the game by himself at a bar otherwise.

Fast forward two-and-a-half hours and it’s 4am and I’m slumped on the sofa like I’ve been shot, reeling from a catastrophic last-minute loss, reeking of alcohol and bitterness. My guest is standing nervously by the door, trying to make bland, soothing conversational offerings. Gradually, it becomes apparent that the SBahn back to his place doesn’t leave for another 40 minutes. Swallowing hard, I’m able to resist my impulse to kick him out of my house (just out of raw, malign scapegoating— not like he’d done anything wrong) and halfway pull myself together to make acceptable conversation (we both lived in Prague, our wives are friends, our kids may end of at the same kindergarten) until he’s able to make his escape.

Incredibly, this is the second year I’ve wound up in this predicament. Last year, I watched the disheartening end of the 2010-11 Patriots season in a sports bar in Prague, where I noticed my neighbor sitting behind me and make a desperate attempt to sneak out without him after the terrible end. Once he foiled my escape and made it apparent that we would be taking the late night tram home together, I tried to shake him by announcing that I ‘actually really just feel like making the trip home on foot’ … at which point, he declared that he too felt like doing walking home. So, this was even worse: same grizzly requirement of prolonged small talk, but this was outdoors and in the cold in January at 3 or 4am.

Image: from the Onion, of course.

A Hooters Running Diary

A running diary of the Hooters’ contemptible ‘And We Danced’ video:

[Note: if you’re looking this and trying to decide whether or not you want to read on, I suggest scrolling down and clicking on the second video clip– it’s the best part.]

00:07-00:14: Opening scenes. A hazy vision of rural, 1950s heartland America, a throwback to a more innocent time of sock hops and white picket fences.

00:15-00:30: Except that now two teenage boys are being thrown into the back of car, presumably as a prelude to being slain execution-style at some later point in the video. First-ever carjacking? I’m confused.

00:38-00:44: Strains of mandolin and melodica. Hmm, this isn’t so bad. Maybe we lucked out and stumbled into a Los Lobos video.

00:45-01:01: Senseless parade of 1950s tropes continues sweeping shot of vintage cars waiting to enter a drive-in movie.

I tend to associate the cultural hard-on for fifties revivalism with the 1970s (e.g. Grease, Happy Days) and forget how much it haunted us through the eighties and even into the nineties. We weren’t really into the clear until The Wonder Years was finally cancelled in 1993.

01:02-01:15: Uh oh.

01:16-01:17: Girl gets out of car and bounds towards Hooters while executing one of the two classic 80s dances: skipping while vigorously clapping hands above head.

01:19-01:20: Senseless torture of two boys trapped in car trunk at the hands of their captors. I can barely watch.

01:24-01:26: Who represents the better catch: A bee-bop baby on a hard day’s night (in other words, the heroine of this song)? Or: A small town girl on a Saturday night, albeit one who’s dancing like she’s never danced before?

01:27-01:30: Hooters keyboardist/vocalist Rob Hyman deftly executes a variant of above-described hopping-and-clapping dance with hands clapping below head.

01:31-01:34: There are a lot of different cheesy things in this video… but Hyman’s hand gestures during the ‘She was hanging on Johnny, he was holding on tight” part are really a crime against humanity.

01:49-01:51: WOW. Just a tremendous buildup to the chorus. Hyman’s combination hand-flip/leg-kick move at 01:50 might be the signature moment of 80s cheese ever captured on camera.

Let’s slow the playback rate down to 10% and take a closer look at the moves of this lovetorn young troubador:

Maybe I should do an animated gif version of the big climax… hmmm.

02:04-02:08: Satanically, there’s now second Hooters lead vocalist (guitarist Eric Bazilian) who has the same voice as the first.

02:20-02:36: There’s something about each of these guys’ necks that is too taunt and generally very hard for me to look at.

02:37-03:29: Nevermind.

03:30-03:43: No depiction of 1950s teenage America could be complete without an appearance by The Nerd. So here is he is: cringing in fear and throwing popcorn all over himself as bikers drive past him. God, this video is so wholly unimaginative, I want to kill myself.

03:50-03:52: Kidnapped boys finally beaten to death with a tire iron.

03:54: Look closely at the bottom-right corner of screen and you’ll see that Hyman does the hand-fling/leg-kick move AGAIN here.

04:30-04:38: In a final twist, the mandolin and melodica part is reprised, but with Hyman and Brazilian having displaced the Los Lobos guys.

04:39: “And we sucked! Like a wave on the ocean, romance…”

New Year’s Resolution Scorecard

People generally express surprise whenever I mention that I’m a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. I guess the thinking is that, being a coastal elite / leering smartass, I’m supposed to express contempt towards this type of conventional, pokey idealism. Au contraire! (as we coastal elites say)– self-improvement is a fucking bitch, so it makes sense to approach it in a structured manner that provides a framework of manageable expectations: tackle one or two big things per year… otherwise just stay the course and don’t change a thing. Seems like sound advice to me. Also, the fact that you get a year to accomplish your goals seems like a reasonable timeframe– you get a few months of procrastination, then a productive sense of urgency kicks in around October to finish the job.

Not that I have anything like an unblemished record with my resolutions, but there have been a few winners over the years. Here are my resolutions for this year, plus a few notable hits and misses from the recent past:

1. Chew food more before swallowing (2008)
Status: closed

OK, this one was partly tongue-in-cheek. I admit that I came up with it the day before New Year’s, and that the idea came from watching a Suzanne Somers (shown above with Thighmaster) infomercial. But it’s a good one that I legitimately recommend. You truly enjoy your food more, plus its a zen easy-to-do-but-hard-to-remember type thing that poses an interesting challenge of behavior modification.

2. Learn to drive stick (2010, 2011)
Status: open

I failed on this one last year and am officially rolling it over to this year. Yes, I actually presently own a car that I’m not able to drive. I feel that this fact is literally more humiliating and inconveniencing to me than every single other embarrassing aspect of my life combined.

3. Get involved in book cover design (2006, 2007, 2008)
Status: sort of closed, but still kind of waiting

This one was notable in that it took me three tries and a move to Europe to accomplish (I remain convinced that this goal would have unattainable in San Francisco– worming my way into the doings of a cool small press would be like trying to become a veterinarian in terms of the level of competition one would face in that city. Meanwhile, in Prague, if you have a creative idea, you’re quite likely the only person who’s thought of it…) Finally, I made good on this (see here, here and here), although I’m still waiting for the projects to be published. So, maybe there’s hope yet for me to learn stick.

4. Wreak revenge on Mission Mission for dropping me from their blog roll (2011)
Status: open

At some point over the summer, Mission Mission unaccountably dropped me from their blog roll. I say ‘unaccountably’ because, if they were generally pruning down their blog roll and only leaving blogs of the highest quality, I would understand… but, in fact, they’ve kept all kinds of lame things up there that haven’t been updated in months, or are super self-indulgent and crappy, etc. Granted, this resolution is only half-serious, as I do still love Mission Mission. But I’m also a small and petty man in many ways. So, watch out, Mission Mission: If I ever learn how to drive stick, there’ll be no stopping me and my vindictive score-settling.


Update: OK, blog roll link has since been reinstated. Apparently, it was deleted by accident.

Crimson Tide

Few topics can numb my buns like a discussion of how some social networking platform is or isn’t changing the cultural and/or political landscape around us. I can’t explain my disdain in rational terms– it’s more like there’s just this big, bored, empty thought bubble that appears over my head whenever the subject is raised. I guess this ennui is best expressed by an article in the Onion brilliantly titled, ‘New Social Networking Site Changing The Way Oh, Christ, Forget It‘.

So, I was surprised to recently encounter two new pieces of commentary on this subject that actually engaged my interest and/or taught me something new. The first was Malcolm Gladwell’s denigrating comparison of the so-called Twitter Revolution to a real bona-fide revolution, the civil-rights movement (this I found mainly revelatory for its explanation of how heirarchically and militantly structured the civil rights organizers actually were). The second was ‘The Social Network’, which I got to see last weekend in a rare case of a U.S. movie being screened in Prague almost synchronously with its stateside release. (In this case, some weird film club got a hold of a copy with Czech titles and screened it as part of their tenth anniversary party. I didn’t understand all of the festive ramifications, but I was glad to get to see it…. plus, there were lots of whisky shots distributed during the film).

I hadn’t been terribly interested in seeing a highly-fictionalized account of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg until I read the David Denby’s review that comes as close as a Denby review possibly can to enthused RANTING and RAVING about a movie. And, indeed, it is as good as advertised– the pacing and writing are both excellent, such that I was totally riveted the entire time. Most impressively, its a rare example of a Hollywood movie that handles an overtly moral subject with sufficient complexity – no hamfisted good-versus-evil dramaturgy– without wussing out and denying it sufficient gravitas and force.

As Denby notes, the movie also does a great job illustrating the pressuring and potentially-alienating atmosphere of Harvard University. Now, as the only one out of the three people who write for this blog who didn’t attend Harvard, maybe I’m the wrong person to comment on this. But, the film is set in the exact same years when friends of mine were there and I was occasionally loitering around on campus hanging out with them. Mainly, the malice and pent-up rage evident in some of characters in “The Social Network” reminded me… not of people I personally met, thank god… but of a string of scandalous and disturbingly violent incidents that unfolded during those years.

Principally, there was the case of Sinedu Tadesse, an Ethopian biology student who became increasingly unhinged and in 1995 murdered her roommate and hanged herself in the dorm room they shared in Dunster House– the same house that most of my friends there inhabited. At the time, I remember that part of the lore around this was the fact that the culprit was so socially alienated that she gave herself ‘assignments’ in how to socialize and graded herself accordingly– a strange and tragic attempt to impose an academic structure on mastering human relationships. Articles written on the case at the time (principally, a New Yorker article by a woman who went on to write a full length book on the subject) confirm this to be the case, and also paint the sad episode of Tadesse sending a strange beseeching letter to individuals that she picked out of the phone book in search of friendship. At the time, I also remember thinking that perhaps the muder of her roommate was inspired by a competitive desire not to let the roommate benefit from a semester of automatic straight A’s that you’re always rumored to receive if your roommate commits suicide. (Has anyone ever confirmed this, by the way, or is it just an academic urban myth?). But, it turns out that her roommate was the last person to serve as a friend to the culprit, and when she eventually announced her desire to live with some other girls, that served as the final social betrayal that pushed Tadesse over the edge.

Halfway Heaven: Diary of a Harvard Murder, the aforementioned book by Melanie Thernstrom, generated mixed reviews to put it kindly (apparently, she gets carried away in a kind of blunt good-versus-evil moralizing that her reviewers object to, which I guess brings this blog post around full circle somewhat)… but one thing that every reviewer seems to find illuminating is the emphasis placed on Harvard’s apathy and insensitivity to the whole matter, particularly to the increasingly evident signs of instability in the culprit in particular and its lack of psychiatric support for students as a whole.

Incredibly, this jarring murder/suicide transpired in the same year that Harvard accepted a young woman named Gina Grant and then generated enormous negative publicity by rescinding the acceptance after it came to light that Grant had apparently murdered her mother several years earlier.

Macalester College– the humdrum, plain-Jane school I attended– was completely lacking in this kind of drama. In fact, the school had singularly failed to do anything noteworthy at all until it recently made its way into Jonathan Franzen’s newest novel Freedom as the alma matter of the fictitious main characters. I suppose I should have taken this relative lack of sociopathology as a positive indicator at the time, but I think I wanted to be part of some more unhinged and psychotic atmosphere back then, and the morbid news streaming out my friends’ college only succeeded in arousing my envy.

The Jimi Hendrix Facsimile

My friend Mike returned from vacation in Corfu last week to a spate of bad news:

  1. A lawsuit involving his dog knocking over an elderly lady in park had somehow gotten revived long after he had deemed it over and done with. Over the years, the plaintiff’s allegations have gotten trumped up and dramatized to the point that they now include Mike standing over the victim and laughing evilly while she writhes around in pain. So, needless to say, it’s shaping up as quite a courtroom drama.
  2. The same dog– now years older and much calmer since the park incident described above– nevertheless terrorized his dog sitter while Mike was in Corfu such that the sitter no longer has any interest in looking after the dog.
  3. Most hurtful of all, Mike returned to find that he had been ousted from his role as Mitch Mitchell in the Jimi Hendrix tribute band he plays in and replaced by… a chick!

Now, performing in a tribute band is such a farcical and inauthentic experience to begin with that it would be easy to poke fun at someone’s feelings of betrayal at being kicked out of a fake Hendrix band to which they felt a sense of ‘belonging’. But, note a few disturbing facets of this: first, the fact that the band has removed a mild-mannered, male, native English-speaking drummer from the Mitchell role in favor of a Czech woman clearly indicates that it is taking its one big craven shot at ‘the big time’ and has abandoned any sense of fidelity that it once had to emulating the real Hendrix Experience. Unless you’re going to replace every member of the group with a woman, this expedient mixing-and-matching of personnel clearly violates the unspoken ethical/aesthetic code of the tribute band.

Next, in the long tradition of Rock Bands Not Handling Things Professionally, no one actually directly informed Mike of the palace coup. Instead, he found out from the band’s facebook page, where its Iago-like manager had posted a concert notice inviting followers to ‘guess who our new drummer will be!’ (A strange and unanswerable question to pose, by the way… what should one guess, Kofi Annan?)

When Mike told me about all this, I was reassured by the fact that he had already assembled a bunch of half-baked ideas for  how to wreak revenge on his former band, as this — i.e., obscure vengeance plots– seems like the normal and healthy response of a bruised creative ego. One idea was to make a somewhat condescending documentary about a tribute band who arrives in the Czech Republic from the US and whose personal identities become totally eclipsed by their assumed Hendrix Experience identities. I endorsed this and vigorously recommended the Chuck Klosterman essay where he follows the Guns ‘n’ Roses tribute band around as background reading. My only other suggestion was that he form a rival Hendrix band that specifically emulates Jimi’s Band of Gypsies phase, and thereby re-ignites the whole debate about whether he was better when he was playing with British white guys or American black guys.

For old times’ sake, here’s a clip of the The Jimi Hendrix Facsimile from the Trutnov Music Fest back when Mike was still manning the drums:

See also: The Seven Types of Stories, in which I go to see the Stone Free Experience play, but wind up writing mainly about the Led Zep cover band that follows them.

More subtle condescension techniques

Two new undermining tactics I’ve come up with (the first I’ve put into practice, but the second is too combustible and so far exists in theory only):

1. Deliberately misjudge or question the gender of a person you’re communicating with by email (or any other internet-fueled written medium of discourse). This one came in handy recently in the comments section of JohnnyO’s blog, when a fairly asinine reader kept making troll-ish comments and basically being a nuisance. I wrote a comment sort of subtly poking fun at this person, but the key was constantly referring to him as ‘him/her’ or ‘he/she’ when it was clearly obvious both from his handle and his writing style that it was a he we were dealing with. He replied with a huffy diatribe that ended with ‘I’m a he, by the way!!’. Mission Subtly Undermine = accomplished.

It became clear to me how subtly undermining it can be to have your gender misapprehended when my best friend fell of his bike when we were 12 years old. My friend had long-ish hair and was at that humiliating not-quite-to-puberty point when it’s possible to be mistaken for a girl. Anyway, he wiped out on his bike, landed hard and broke his collarbone. As he was writhing on the pavement gasping for air, a good samaritan guy arrived and started shouting out, “Call for help! This little girl is hurt! She can’t get up!”. My friend was desperately trying to wheeze, “I’m a boy!” but couldn’t manage it. Bad times!

2. Anytime you call someone and reach their voicemail, quickly jot down their entire spoken outgoing message. Then, when it’s time to leave a message, recite back their outgoing message but in a high-pitched, whiny, mocking voice. I bet you could alienate every single friend with voicemail and perhaps entirely wipe clear your social slate by doing this for a month or so.

See also: Subtle condescension techniques

Subtle condescension techniques

Not that I’m job-hunting or anything at the moment (in fact I’ve managed to avoid anything resembling a formal job interview for about a decade now)… but I somehow came across this list of 50 common mistakes people make in job interviews during my morning procrastinatory internet warm-up routine. Most of them are pretty banal, but it was somewhat fun to imagine combining various ‘mistakes’ together into one grand train-wreck of an interview. Let’s say you went into an interview wearing sunglasses (violating rule #9), accompanied by your mother (#28), and indulged in all the forbidden behaviors outlined in #30 (‘Laughing, giggling, whistling, humming, lip-smacking’).

Still, even this amalgamated uber-faux pas can’t touch the example that reader JS once told me about reading in a Wall St. Journal article written by a veteran headhunter outlining the worst telephone interview mistakes she’d encountered in her professional experience. At the top of the list was some guy who was audibly listening to Roadrunner cartoons in the background during his interview. There’s something so sublimely apathetic about this behavior that it seems a great stunt to stage on purpose in order to subtly undermine colleagues and clients in a conference call, or in any telephonic situation that calls for a roundabout display of contempt. I’m adding it to my shortlist of ‘best ways to elaborately and subtly condescend to someone’, the other two dream scenarios being:

(1) trying to bribe someone in a petty position of authority with an unacceptably tiny amount of money (discussed here in greater detail)

(2) pretending to constantly mix up the name of someone with that of his or her pet. This idea occurred to me when we were subletting a house in Prague from a guy named Dennis who had a cat named Noe. Imagine that you constantly call him ‘Noe’ and then slap your forehead with feigned chagrin every time he points out the mistake– “Oh right– you’re Dennis… the cat is Noe. Sorry, sorry!”– but then repeat the ‘mistake’ a few moments later.

Spite Houses

Just in time for the holidays, I bring tidings of “spite houses,” structures built for the sole purpose of irritating the neighbors (by blocking their access to light and air, etc.).

I have to say — I can imagine something like this happening, but I’m a litle taken aback that this concept is so well-embedded in our culture that there is a commonly-recognized term for it. This wikipedia page contains many examples of “famous” spite houses, including the little bugger pictured to the right. It will also teach you about the less-common, but still spiteful “spite fences.”

The best part about a spite house? Because it isn’t built for any practical use by its owner, there is a lot of leeway when it comes to design — you can really let your imagination soar when the structure you’re building has no intended use beyond to irritate!