Categories
Etc. Life

Fourteen Memories

Fourteen scattered memories, in no particular order, written at whim on the occasion of my birthday on the fourteenth of September.

1. Every summer, on their way down to or up from Texas, Grandma Helen and Grandpa Cliff stayed with us in Madison for a few days. Knowing they’d be there when I got home from school added an extra buzz to the day they arrived. I’d run the four blocks from school, which suddenly in my anticipation seemed so much longer than usual. Grandma would have Bugle chips and bags of cookies and homemade mounds bars. Mornings were different when they stayed with us because of the coffee; it was usually rare because only Dad drank it, but when Cliff and Helen were visiting it was brewed every morning and accompanied Cliff’s newspaper and crossword.

2. We vacationed in Florida one winter after Grandma LaVonne died. It was, as far as I can recall, my first Christmas without snow, without cold, and without everything that constituted the Christmas season. Except for It’s a Wonderful Life. Mom and dad insisted we still watch it on Christmas Eve as usual, because we had to. Dad even called the hotel to make sure they had a VCR.

3. Summer of 2012 I was in grad school and worked as a graduate assistant in residence life. One weekend an epic power outage left us campus-dwelling staff, including the student workers, without electricity or air conditioning. I and the other hall directors used our iPhone group chat to share updates, coordinate actions, and vent against ComEd and the school administration. Some of us flocked to the packed public library to charge our devices and await the impending darkness. For dinner that first night I heated a can of soup by rigging a stove grill above a candle. The next day, still unsure when the power would be restored, I showered in one of residence hall’s communal bathrooms that still had power, and prepared for another stuffy night. The power returned at 9pm.

4. My roommate freshman year had a summer job that got him up very early, so most mornings when I woke up around 7 a.m., he’d already be fully dressed, lying on his fully made bed and watching TV. Sometimes it was the Strongman competition or Saved By the Bell, but usually it was Dawson’s Creek. Soon enough that theme song became my alarm clock.

5. At summer camp we had 24 hours off between Saturday afternoon—after the kids left and we cleaned everything up—and Sunday afternoon when the new group arrived. One Saturday I drove all the way across Madison with a fellow camp counselor to see the movie Once at Westgate Cinema. We were so enamored with it that when we returned to camp I tickled out “Falling Slowly” on the piano and we sang the duet.

6. Along with Westgate Cinema, in high school I frequented the old Hilldale Theatre on Midvale to see the smaller, independent films Marcus Cinema didn’t show. Going to a showing of Brick with some friends, I didn’t realize when I walked up to the ticket counter that my box of Sour Patch Kids was still in my hand rather than stashed away in my pocket. “You can’t bring those in,” the guy said. I tried to convince him otherwise, but he wasn’t having it. So I grumpily returned to my car, put the box in the glove department, and texted my on-the-way friends to grab it from my car when they arrived and sneak it in for me. Mission accomplished, and Brick blew our minds.

7. One night at camp the middle-schoolers decided they want to sleep outside. They started bringing their bunk mattresses out but then Rich, a camp supervisor, said no, if they were going to sleep outside they had to own it and not use mattresses, only their sleeping bags and a pillow. So they did, and another counselor and I stayed out with them. As they settled in I ruminated aloud on the beautiful starry sky above us, about how vast and inscrutable the universe seemed. They’d quieted and begun to doze when Rich, in a typical bout of wild whimsy, came screaming by our quiet flock of preteens in the camp’s golf cart, honking and flashing his lights, just cuz. It took a lot longer to get the boys to sleep again—which we pointed out to Rich repeatedly the next day—but sleep they eventually did. I awoke with the early summer dawn and, with the other counselor standing guard over the sleepers, walked to the camp’s tranquil lakeshore to watch the sun rise through the distant treeline.

8. Senior year of high school my band played a gig at my high school. I was working that evening at my Copps cashier job and realized only once I got to work that I was scheduled to work past the time the gig was supposed to start. I panicked, but realized fate was on my side: the nice manager was working that night. I asked if I could cut out early, and she said we’d have to see how busy it was later. The time came and it wasn’t slow, but she said I could go. As I dashed out of the store I saw her bagging the groceries at her own station and realized she’d be short-staffed the rest of the night but still let me go. My feelings of gratitude quickly dissolved into a vat of anxiety as I hopped into my Toyota Corolla and gunned the drive to my high school, which was luckily short and not monitored by police. I bolted inside and saw my bandmates standing on stage waiting to play, their instruments in hand and my drum kit waiting for me. Out of breath I picked up my sticks, slid onto my throne, and clicked off our first song.

9. After I returned from Colombia I was a month away from zeroing out my checking and savings accounts when I got a call from the Butera grocery store across the street offering me a cashier job. I said yes because I had to. It wasn’t bad except for it being a cashier job. But four and a half years after getting that lucky break from Copps I got another one from Butera: on February 6, 2011, I was scheduled from 12 to 5pm, instead of the usual 12 to 7pm. This was important because on February 6, 2011, the Packers were playing in Super Bowl XLV at 5:30pm. I was able to dash home, change into my yellow Donald Driver jersey, and get a ride from friends to the Super Bowl party where I’d get to witness for the second time the Packers bring the Lombardi home.

10. I was angry about something—probably my parents, as is common for middle-schoolers. I was also in a yo-yo phase, so I was holding the end of an unwound yo-yo when in my anger I slammed the door to my room and impulsively decided to use the object in my hand as an outlet for my adolescent rage. My idea was to whip it over my head and down onto my bed like a sledgehammer, but at the vertex of its arc the yo-yo crashed into one of the opaque glass lightbulb shades on the overhead fan. The bulb remained intact, but to this day it’s missing its cover. Deciding that whatever animus existed between my parents and me would be exacerbated by this, I never told them what had happened.

11. One night at Copps grocery store, I was working the register when a little before 9pm a classmate from high school bolted through the automatic sliding doors. In Wisconsin liquor sales end at 9—the register wouldn’t even allow you to scan liquor of any kind once the clock struck 9—so it was common to have a small rush around this time. My classmate hustled past me and with a smile said, “I’m gonna get liquor, OK?” Thinking I misheard him, I casually nodded as he disappeared behind the corner. He quickly reemerged at my register with a 24-pack of whatever cheap swill high schoolers drink and pulled out his fake ID. Suddenly realizing he was serious, I said, “Dude, I can’t sell this to you.” I could have. It was slow; my manager was at the other end of the registers in the only other open lane. But either out of principle or not wanting to be taken for a schmuck just because this kid was in the cool crowd and I was in band, I reiterated: “I know who you are. I can’t sell you this.” He was more shocked than angry I think, surprised a peer wasn’t playing along. “You’re sure…” he followed. “Yeah, sorry man,” I replied. And he walked out. I wondered who was waiting for him in the car, whose night I just ruined because they wouldn’t have time to get to another store before liquor sales ended. But now I think I did them a favor. A night without Keystone Light is a good night indeed.

12. New Year’s Eve, 2011. I was living on campus for graduate school, but didn’t have a girlfriend so I didn’t have plans. Luckily my on-campus friends Tone and Brian didn’t have plans either, so we decided to drive around awhile and listen to the radio. When “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” came on, Tone asked if it made me think of anyone special, and I said I had someone in mind. (My future wife.) Deciding we should have a comfort night, we stopped to get Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream and Late Night Snack and a Redbox before returning to campus. We got into our pajamas and watched the horrible Horrible Bosses while eating ice cream. I left at 11pm and went to sleep.

13. On a bright and warm weekday September morning, I had Whiskeytown National Recreation Area to myself, or so it seemed. Newly unemployed, I’d flown to Redding to visit friends, see some mountains, and find whatever else I was looking for on what ended up being a much-needed salubrious stay. I didn’t see a soul as a drove my rental to the Brandy Creek Falls trailhead and parked. On the solo hike to the falls (which I wrote about here), I found silence. I found vistas that I photographed once but no more. At the falls I found a rock to sit on astride the stream. I read, dozed a bit, let the water’s whooshing chorus drown everything else out, and then I walked back.

14. Meeting Henry Winkler.

Categories
Books Presidents

Ten Books

In the Filmspotting tradition of naming lists after what you know will be on everyone’s list so should be removed from consideration, I’m going to name this the To Kill A Mockingbird Memorial List of Ten Books That Have Stuck With Me For Some Reason. Acknowledging the usual disclaimers of making lists (it’s not binding, it could change tomorrow, etc.), here are ten titles I’d think of right away if someone asked for a great book recommendation.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X
 by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
Essential reading, for American citizens especially.

A Night to Remember by Walter Lord
Ostensibly a compact history of the Titanic disaster, it reads like a thrilling and expertly written novel. Though dated, the prose is solid yet so smooth, steadily pressing the narrative on like the doomed steamer it documents. 

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Like Fellowship of the Ring, this book is really a stand-in for the sublime trilogy it begins, yet is also the best book in the saga. Most of what we know and love about TR comes from his presidential and post-POTUS years — the Bull Moose, the assassination survival, the Amazon pioneering — but the man who would do these things was forged in the 42 years before becoming president, which are chronicled in this book. He seized his days with unadulterated vim, relentlessly stacking his resume and making the rest of us look bad. I hope “Bully!” makes a comeback.

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
Haven’t read this since high school so perhaps my feelings will change with a reread, but this was my first exposure to media criticism and it hit me like a bag of bricks. It was shocking to read about how Sesame Street was ruining education and that our dependence on distracting technologies would doom us to a Huxleyan dystopia of dumbness. These were his (admittedly cranky) opinions, but they rang true to me. And their prescience was and continues to be sadly undeniable. 

Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey
Hard to decide between this and Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace?, but I went with the more recent read. Yancey profiles thirteen prominent figures who helped restore his crumbling faith, among them Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Leo Tolstoy, G.K. Chesterton, and Annie Dillard. As faith falls out of fashion, books like this remind me that religion can be richer and more reasonable than our culture of unbelief realizes.

The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd Olson
“Should you be lucky enough to be moving across a calm surface with mirrored clouds, you may have the sensation of suspension between heaven and earth, of paddling not on the water but through the skies themselves.” And: “Standing there alone, I felt alive, more aware and receptive than ever before. A shout or a movement would have destroyed the spell. This was a time for silence, for being in pace with ancient rhythms and timelessness, the breathing of the lake, the slow growth of living things. Here the cosmos could be felt and the true meaning of attunement.” And so on.

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck
I probably wouldn’t have liked it when it came out in 1978, given that it was a mega-bestseller and cultural phenomenon. But its plainspoken style and challenging yet attainable standards on discipline and spiritual development were a revelation to me. Peck’s four pillars of discipline — dedication to truth, delaying gratification, acceptance of responsibility, balancing — are all noble and necessary goals for self-improvement I think about, and fail to achieve, often. And when they are paired with his perspectives on love and grace, it makes for a great roadmap for life. (Hat-tip to my sister for the initial recommendation.)

Crazy Horse and Custer by Stephen Ambrose
I love a broad history as much as anybody, but I also enjoy when a writer takes an angle on something. In this case, it’s Ambrose profiling the oddly parallel lives of Crazy Horse and George Custer, which converge tragically and infamously at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Like most other Ambrose books it’s a smooth read with an emphasis on good storytelling and capturing his subjects’ humanity. People who struggle with reading history would do well to start with anything by Ambrose.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
Here’s where I admit that I have a strong bent toward irreverence in life generally, but in the arts specifically. Pious readers may frown upon this fantastical take on Jesus’s youth and adolescence, but I found it funny, humane, and ultimately honoring of the spirit of Jesus. Like an Anne Lamott book, Lamb walks the line between reverence and irreverence like Philippe Petit on a high-wire: effortlessly and therefore beautifully.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
First read in high school, then again in college. It was even better the second time around (which begat a critical essay for a U.S. history class). “On the Rainy River” remains of my all-time favorite pieces of writing. 

Categories
Music

Ringo Starr Beatles Songs, Ranked

Because the Internet needs more lists.

  1. “Octopus’s Garden” — Abbey Road (1969)
  2. “With a Little Help From My Friends” — Sgt. Pepper’s (1967)
  3. “Good Night” — The White Album (1968)
  4. “What Goes On” — Rubber Soul (1965)
  5. “Don’t Pass Me By” — The White Album (1968)
  6. “Yellow Submarine” — Revolver (1966)
  7. “I Wanna Be Your Man” — With the Beatles (1963)
  8. “Act Naturally” —  Help! (1965)
  9. “Honey Don’t” — Beatles for Sale (1964)
  10. “Boys” — Please Please Me (1963)
Categories
Music

Hark Noel! My 2011 Advent Playlist

It’s simple: no Christmas music until December. That’s my rule. So every year after Thanksgiving ends and the Advent season approaches, I’m thinking about three things: snow, eggnog, and what music will help me enjoy them. Some songs here are old classics, others modern takes. Heard as a whole, they’re but a slice of my Advent aural feast. (I’ll be updating as I hear more and better Christmas music – let me know your favorites in the comments.)

“Why Can’t It Be Christmas All Year?” by Rosie Thomas, A Very Rosie Christmas
“Darlin’ (Christmas Is Coming)” by Over the Rhine, Snow Angels
“Sleigh Ride” by She & Him, A Very She & Him Christmas
“Only At Christmas Time” by Sufjan Stevens, Songs for Christmas
“Winter Song” by Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson, Hotel Cafe Presents
“Frosty The Snowman” by The Ronettes, A Christmas Gift for You
“Joy to the World” by Future of Forestry, Advent Christmas EP: Vol. 2
“Little Drummer Boy” by Bob Dylan, Christmas In The Heart
“Let It Snow!” by Dean Martin, Christmas With the Rat Pack
“I Celebrate The Day” by Relient K, Let It Snow, Baby…Let It Reindeer
“Come Thou Fount” by Sufjan Stevens, Songs for Christmas: Vol. 2
“O Holy Night” by Sleeping At Last, Christmas Collection 2011
“Marshmallow World” by Darlene Love, A Christmas Gift for You
“Merry Christmas, Here’s To Many More” by Relient K, Let It Snow, Baby…
“Snowed In With You” by Over the Rhine, Snow Angels
“White Christmas” by Bing Crosby, Bing Crosby Christmas
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” by Frank Sinatra, Christmas With the Rat Pack

Categories
Film Music

7 Beautiful Movie Music Moments

Sometimes we as moviegoers have to let movies affect us in ways we cannot explain or control. One of those ways is through music. Whether it is an epic orchestral theme or a lone piano suite, music in the movies can make the difference in how I respond to the story. Listening to a CD of movie themes got me thinking about my favorite movie moments that were made better because of their music. There are many such moments, but here are a few that stand out.

Cast Away: Saying farewell to Wilson

When Chuck (Tom Hanks) finally leaves the island four years after crash-landing there, he is mistakenly separated from his beloved anthropomorphized volleyball but can’t retrieve him.  There is no music for the entire film until that time, about 50 minutes in. So when the soft strings finally come in, we feel the catharsis the same as Chuck as he paddles away. The theme itself, by Forrest Gump and Back to the Future composer Alan Silvestri, is so tender and affecting.

Video unavailable, but here’s the audio:

WALL-E: Eva and WALL-E’s space dance

I’m glad Pixar has basically locked down Thomas Newman for their film scores, because every one he does its magical, including The Green Mile, American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, and Finding Nemo. In a film full of cute moments between the robotic protagonists, the impromptu, extinguisher-propelled ballet may be the cutest.

Lord of the Rings: The whole trilogy

I’d argue the LOTR score is the most necessary and perfect ever. Howard Shore’s compositions are practically supporting characters in themselves. There are many stand-out moments in that trilogy for me, but there are two that would not have worked without a musical backing:

The first is in Fellowship of the Ring after Gandalf falls into the Mines of Moria as the fellowship looks on helplessly. It is a shocking and grievous moment, but the lone mournful soprano voice over the somber choir does not overwhelm it. It allows us to rest on the sadness if just for a moment.

The second is in Return of the King in one of the many endings, after Aragorn becomes the new king and the four hobbits bow to him. He stops them and says, in recognition of their sacrifices, that they bow to no one. Then the whole crowd bows down to them and the main theme of the trilogy swells one last time, representing the grandest end of an epic adventure.

Once: The breakup song

Once has quickly become my favorite film “musical” more so than real musicals because the music interweaves with the story so seamlessly without the awkward transitions between dialogue and song. In a movie with so many good moments, I still have to choose the scene when the Guy plays the song “Lies” while watching home video of him and his ex-girlfriend. He is still heartbroken, and the song backs him up in that.

Video unavailable, but here’s the audio:

The Truman Show: The end

The piano-heavy score by Philip Glass and Burkhard Dallwitz mixes classical standards with original compositions, adding whimsy and sophistication to Peter Weir’s allegorical tale. The best moment, though, comes at the end when Truman finally hits the wall, literally and metaphorically. It is a culmination of everything Truman has been through and we as the viewers wait in anticipation for how he handles the moment. It’s as good an ending as I’ve ever seen in any movie.

Remember the Titans: The final game

The music throughout the movie builds little by little, but it isn’t until the final game when the orchestra is at full-blast. Trevor Rabin’s score builds with the tension of the final game, but the moment I always remember is when Coaches Boone and Yost exchange congratulations at the end of the game and hold up the ball together. It is a triumphant moment for the team and for the music.

Video unavailable, but here’s the audio:

Categories
America History Politics

A Loathsome List

I linked to a list of the Most Loathsome People in 2007 in an earlier post, but I want to repost a part from that list because it’s so freaking true. Check out the rest of the list for a gut-shot of truth.

The Founding Fathers

Charges: Lionized as moral pillars and demigods ad nauseam without the slightest hint of irony. Can’t be judged by today’s tandards. Electoral College? Dumb f*cking idea. Invoked by every a*shole in the last two hundred years to support every stupid idea ever. The original liberal elite. Able to withstand lightning strikes and the British military; unable to fathom poor people voting.

Exhibit A: Owned wigs, Africans.

Sentence: Depicted as cartoons on rapidly devaluing currency; beaten at effective democracy by former monarchies.

You

Charges: You believe in freedom of speech, until someone says something that offends you. You suddenly give a damn about border integrity, because the automated voice system at your pharmacy asked you to press 9 for Spanish. You cling to every scrap of bullshit you can find to support your ludicrous belief system, and reject all empirical evidence to the contrary. You know the difference between patriotism and nationalism — it’s nationalism when foreigners do it. You hate anyone who seems smarter than you. You care more about zygotes than actual people. You love to blame people for their misfortunes, even if it means screwing yourself over. You still think Republicans favor limited government. Your knowledge of politics and government are dwarfed by your concern for Britney Spears’ children. You think buying Chinese goods stimulates our economy. You think you’re going to get universal health care. You tolerate the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques.” You think the government is actually trying to improve education. You think watching CNN makes you smarter. You think two parties is enough. You can’t spell. You think $9 trillion in debt is manageable. You believe in an afterlife for the sole reason that you don’t want to die. You think lowering taxes raises revenue. You think the economy’s doing well. You’re an idiot.

Exhibit A: You couldn’t get enough Anna Nicole Smith coverage.

Sentence: A gradual decline into abject poverty as you continue to vote against your own self-interest. Death by an easily treated disorder that your health insurance doesn’t cover. You deserve it, chump.