Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Yard Stick, Some Rubber, and a Bucket of Tears

I've just recently joined Facebook. At first I joined just to keep track of Sheldon because he was next to impossible to reach by phone. He was too busy making Office parodies and knocking over U of U snowbunnies. My first profile was created with the name Wilson Von Gamehendge. Facebook was naturally just another name for Myspace, right? I had no interest in picking up college chicks or posting emo video rants about Britney Spears' mistreatment by the lying media bastards, so I chose the most ludicrous nom de plum and created my profile. After stalking Sheldon for a few months I decided to spend some time on Facebook and learned that A) it was nothing remotely close to Myspace, and B) I had a few mission buddies that actually used it. So I created a legit profile, reached out to my mission friends, and a month later have 60 friends in my network and I've been able to reconnect with a number of friends from high school, Italy, and mission.

I've been able to reconnect and catch up with a friend named Paul. We've swapped stories and reminisced about old times and the subject of 7th grade came up. A flood of memories came back to me, one of which happens to be the 2nd scariest thing that has ever happened to me in the history of my human body. The first will never ever be shared publicly, so count yourselves fortunate to get this one in a forum so ridiculously public as a blog. While reading, imagine yourself as a 7th grade pre-pubescent lad and keep in mind that I have never shared this story with my parents.

There was a science teacher at Kennedy Junior High named Bob Barber. Mr. Barber was eccentric to say the least. A good teacher, but he ruled with an iron fist. Or at least a very hard wooden yardstick. He walked around with the yardstick and ceremoniously slammed it down on the desk of any student NOT paying proper attention or, heaven forbid, sleeping in class. The torturous weapon made a deafening WHACK!ing sound when it connected with desk wood. And he used it with precision. Like a Frenchman picking apart a claymore wielding Scot with a rapier. But I had an "in" with Mr. Barber. See, Bob went to high school with my father. Dad was the student body president at Cyprus High in 1964 and Bob was a class mate who happened to really like my dad. So I was in like Flynn. And I abused the hell out of this clearly advantageous position.

One lovely day in spring I found something. I didn't know what it was, but it was something. It kind of looked like a small, flat, round candy in its individual wrapper. But it was rubbery and surrounded by some kind of liquid. I didn't want to take a chance in opening and smelling it, hoping for sugary goodness, so I put it in my pocket and took it to school. My friends informed me at that point that I was looking at a condom. Of course I knew what a condom was and what it did, but it looked like this?! My mind was falling all over itself trying to figure out how THAT could turn into something that..., well..., never mind. Now I'm sure you all want to know how I found the little guy. Well I'm not going to tell you. Let's just say that it wasn't mine and I didn't find it on the side of the road.

I also quickly noticed that my friends, and anyone I showed it to, thought it was great! Everyone suddenly liked me. And I was a 7th grader! So I spent a full day showing off my new toy and basking in the glow of everyone's love. At the end of the day I casually tossed it into my locker.

My locker was a black hole of disorganization. Any kind of wrapper, book, homework assignment, or trinket would be sucked in by its massive gravitational pull. It's kind of like the closet in Uncle Buck. So throwing the condom into the locker meant that its location from this point forward would always be displayed as "unknown" until it resurfaced, which it was bound to do.

My advantage in Bob Barber's class was starting to wear thin. I wasn't treated much differently than anyone else now. If I talked too much or zoned out he would call me to the carpet, though he never used his wicked yardstick on me. Yet.

One morning I had my science book closed and I was talking to my neighbor. I must not have heard Mr. Barber instruct us to open our books to page 119, and I certainly didn't see him stalk toward my desk like a hungry panther spotting a grouse, but I definitely heard the WHACK! It scared the love right out of me and in the process of jumping six inches using nothing but terrified butt muscles, my flailing arm caught the edge of my science book and it flipped open. Lo and behold, wedged between pages 362 and 363 was the golden-hued condom. Mr. Barber looked at it, then looked at me. He slowly picked it up, rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger, and casually asked "what do we have here?" The class was deathly silent. The object that brought me so much friendship and warmth some weeks prior was now clearly my enemy. It was cold and callous. "Go wait for me in the hall." I went. Like Don Quixote ascending the stairs to the inquisition court I walked the walk of shame out the door.

I was subsequently delivered into the hands of Mr. Holbrook, our assistant principle. There have been some terrifying people in the history of our planet. Atilla the Hun. Adolf Hitler. Heath Ledger's Joker. Richard Simmons. And counted among those monstrous human beings is Mr. Bryce Holbrook. He was well over 9 feet tall and weighed no more than 130 lbs. His face never saw sunlight. His mustache hid a vicious snarl. He had fangs instead of teeth and I'm confident he had no heart. The power that created and maintained his life was pure evil. Seriously, he was scary. And I was sitting across from him, only a wooden desk protecting me from his gaping maw.

Mr. Holbrook launched into a litany of questions. Did I know what it was? Yes. Am I "active?" No. Where did I get it? I found it on the street. On and on and on came the questions. I wondered when he would break out the thumb screws and bamboo shoots, but they never came. Instead came something much worse. "What's your phone number Mr. Pearson?" My what? "Your phone number." What do you want that for? "So I can call your parents obviously." Oh lord in heaven, let it not be the phone. Give me the rack, the boiling oil, waterboarding, the iron freaking maiden! But not the phone. Please Mr. Holbrook, you can't call my parents...they'll kill me. "The number please." I can't. "The number." *sob* By this time the tears are obviously flowing. "I need your number young man." Now he's whispering, almost like an executioner that feels some sort of empathy for the head he's about to strike from its body. *sob* Please, no. *sob* "Either you give me your phone number, or Sandy will pull it up on the computer. But that will take more time. And I value my time." I knew there was no way out. In between sobs I gave him my number. Slowly. He dialed the number and just when I thought my mother would answer he hung up the phone.

"What would happen to you if I called your parents, Mr. Pearson?" No way, is this really happening? I've never had a problem creating stories. Sometimes those can be technically considered "lies", and I launched into a doozy. Oh Mr. Holbrook, I'll be grounded for an entire summer, my dad will beat me with the typewriter, I'll have to shovel dirt with a spoon, I'll have to scrub grout with a toothbrush (I actually did do that by the way), I'll be forced to eat nothing but cucumbers and cottage cheese, I'll be forced to wear a loincloth, they'll play Barry Manilow constantly on the radio, they'll change my name to Alice! I was brilliant.

When I finished with my rant he stared at me. He didn't say a word, but he was communicating. I read those black eyes that plainly stated "consider yourself lucky, for next time your soul is mine."

He motioned to the door. I went back to class unscathed. But every time I saw Mr. Holbrook in the hall from that point forward he watched me. Hungry.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Randy Pausch - A TRUE Inspiration

You may not be familiar with the name Randy Pausch. If that's the case, you've likely been living in a cave or trapped at sea for the past year. But Professor Pausch passed away today from pancreatic cancer. He is a true inspiration to me, and I will never forget some of the things I learned while watching him give his last lecture.

Pausch was a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, where he taught computer science and human-computer interaction and design. In September 2007 Randy gave his "last lecture" to his students and peers. This was an odd lecture, because everyone knew that it would truly be his LAST lecture. The cancer was terminal, and Pausch was dying.

The title of his lecture was "How to Live Your Childhood Dreams." Before he even began speaking, the audience applauded and rose to its feet. Pausch humored them briefly, then motioned for them to sit down, saying "make me earn it." He began his lecture with a quote from his father to the effect of "if there is an elephant in the room, introduce him." He talked about his cancer, his current state, his condition. But the meat of his last lecture was about living your dreams formed at childhood. He referenced his own childhood and how he was always smiling in his pictures.

I took one specific story particularly to heart. Let your kids paint their own rooms. He, and his parents, encouraged their kids to express their creativity, and channel their art to the walls of their rooms. Too many families are so interested in having a neat, orderly, PLAIN home. Give your kids a brush and some paint, let them choose the colors, and help them paint their rooms. This idea instantly stuck with me. While I want to afford my kids all the opportunities in life, and I fully plan to suggest and steer them places, I sincerely hope they will develop their OWN ideas and passions. Karate? Fine. Bagpipes? Great. Dance? Hang on now... I very much hope to have the strength to allow my kids to follow their dreams. And paint their walls.

There was one particular quote from Randy's lecture that I found amazingly profound:

"The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They are there to stop the OTHER people!" — from The Last Lecture

This is a selfish world. Brett Favre, one of my heroes, is willing to throw the entire NFL and his family into a tailspin because he just can't give up a game. Brett...do you have any idea what Randy Pausch would have given up to spend more time with his family? Take a lesson from Professor Pausch's lecture and start making memories with your family.

If you have not read The Last Lecture I highly recommend that you do. You can also view the video clips all over Youtube. And Pausch's book is a best seller.

Thank you Randy for showing ambitious young parents how to encourage their children to find their passions and chase their dreams, and for showing people of all ages that their OWN childhood dreams can be realized.

Randy's Obituary

Download the transcript

Watch the video...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Excccelent!

Is it just me or has anyone else that watches SYTYCD noticed this?






















How about this?...





Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Decadence Perfected - Redux

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I am reposting this older piece I wrote a few months ago. I admit it...I got sucked into "The Bachelorette" and was once again left angry and in disbelief. I felt compassion for DeAnna when she got snubbed by Brad Womack on The Bachelor. I felt she was real, she was invested, and she spoke her mind like a mutha. So I was thrilled when she got the opportunity to do it herself, and this time...to do it right. A person like DeAnna would insightfully choose someone that she could not only fall in love with, but loved her in return. He would be able to keep her safe, secure, and financially stable. Right? Freaking WRONG! She chose the "pro" snowboarder that showed up the first night with pink shoelaces and a sequined jacket. Teaching boarding lessons and shredding the farm league boarding circuit will maybe work for, oh, 10 more years...max. But then what? How will "brah" be able to support her after that?

DeAnna...terrible choice. Good luck in your failure of a future.

Below is my original post comparing modern-day reality TV to the bloody arena battles of ancient Rome.
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A few years ago I was headed to New Orleans for a conference. My father warned me about the city, particularly Bourbon Street, by telling me “there they have ‘decadence perfected.’” He was absolutely right of course. I hadn’t taken two steps on Bourbon before I saw two of the nastiest, funkiest topless hippie-women imaginable. They had enough multi-colored beads partially covering their nasty sagginess to make Mr. T jealous. Things didn’t get much better as I walked down the famous strip. There was a unique aroma in the air; a type of mixture of vomit, urine, stale alcohol, and bread pudding. And more nakedness. This truly was a decadent city. However, when evaluating decadent civilization, the mother ship of all wanton societies is absolutely Ancient Rome.

Rome was a military power, conquering country after country until its presence spread over most of Eurasia. Its political system was also quite advanced. Much of our government structure today is based on what was employed in ancient Rome. As the major force in the world, Rome and its citizens enjoyed a wide variety of indulgences. Abundant drink and sexual deviance. The Romans also enjoyed “sport”. Contests of strength and survival carried out in numerous arenas throughout the city and country. The Coliseum is obviously the most famous staging point for such contests. Roman men, women, and children congregated within its walls to watch men fight each other to the bloody death. The bottom of The Coliseum could be filled with water and full naval battles would be carried out to the delight of the crowd. And the demise of the losing ship. Pagan Romans would cheer and jeer as Christians were fed to lions. Rome was a decadent society and the majority of its citizens were filthy, blood-crazed fans of misery and death.

The Governator, Arnie Schwarzenegger, starred in a 1987 film called “The Running Man.” The film was set in the year 2019 and the premise was based on criminals that were forced to play a televised game of life and death. People would be glued to their television sets to watch their heroes, “stalkers”, chase the criminals through a part of Los Angeles that had been ravaged by an earthquake and subsequently abandoned. The stalkers are equipped with all sorts of savage weaponry with one goal in mind…kill the runners. A variety of elaborate puzzles, games, and obstacles were placed in front of the runners. In each instance a runner would face off with a stalker and the game would commence. One would live, the other would die. Naturally, Arnie kicks the living hell out of all the stalkers, single-handedly takes on the entire studio responsible for the show, and waxes the show’s host (played by a surprisingly entertaining Richard Dawson.) It sounds brutal, but by far the most disturbing thing for me in the film was the way the public ate it up. The studio audience would grin and cheer in elation any time a runner was brutally killed by a stalker. Entire families would gather around the television with bowls of popcorn and TV dinners to watch human beings die.

Sadly, this seemingly bizarre story is not far off from reality today. The most obvious parallel is to American Gladiators. Really, the only difference between Arnold’s film and AG is the substitution of chainsaws for padded sticks. We still love to watch those runners get massacred by the gladiators. Even if they don’t die. However, I think the most appropriate parallel to be drawn to ancient Rome’s twisted entertainment would be today’s Reality TV craze. Some are interesting and even inspiring, ala The Biggest Loser. But some are downright savage:

The Bachelor (ABC) – Why on earth would two dozen gorgeous, talented women want to be filmed having their hearts broken by a perfect stranger in front of millions of viewers? And furthermore, how is it possible that anyone could fall in love in that setting? First off, I can’t understand why these rich, successful, hunky bachelors can’t manage to meet women. I mean really…these thoroughbreds can’t find love conventionally while 3-legged mules like me can? And what’s the deal with the ladies?! They are gorgeous, knockouts. Most are wildly successful. And they have to go on national television to find an eligible man?! And the setting is all wrong. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can misunderstand an emotion as odd as love when being flown by helicopter to a beachside lobster dinner on a private island in the Caribbean. The ladies inevitably compromise themselves, “fall in love”, and leave bawling in a limo. While we watch them fall apart. And on this last season, The Bachelor didn’t even have the decency to pick a woman. He led them all on and at the end of the show decided he didn’t like any of them. He got to rock steady with 25 knockouts and leave without having to commit to anything.

Wife Swap (ABC) – Objectively this sounds like a great idea. To show families how much they love their wives/mothers, they trade with another family’s wife/mother for two weeks. For the first week the wife has to live the same lifestyle as the woman she replaces. For the second week she gets to implement her own rules and style. The problem here is that the network sends these women into hellish situations that no human being should have to endure. They have a pagan coven witch swap with a born again Christian zealot fanatic. A vegetarian health-crazed personal trainer swaps with a 400 lb. soap opera slob. A racist white woman trades places with an NAACP activist. These are NOT healthy situations and the idea is certainly not to help families grow closer. It is to entertain the masses by watching a lunatic invoke the name of the almighty to cast evil spirits out of bewildered children.

Survivor (CBS) – I love this show. But season after season we watch people lie, cheat, steal, and deceive to play a game. The million dollar prize essentially forces people to be what they hate.

American Idol (FOX) – Another personal favorite. But we laugh while young people with false understandings of their talent flounder and fail on national television. Just to have some pompous Brit tell them they are worthless. This show makes someone’s dream come true, but crushes countless other dreams on the way.

The Moment of Truth (FOX) – The most disturbing show on television. Contestants strap up to polygraph machines and answer simple yes/no questions about themselves. Each correct answer moves closer to $500,000 with breaks at $25k, $100k, and $250k. Simple, no? Well, try answering a question like “do fat people repulse you” while your obese loved one watches from the audience. If you knew there was no chance of being caught, would you cheat on your wife?” “Have you ever thrown up to make yourself thinner?” These are examples of questions asked. I think it is ruthless and cold. Yet we lap it up like parched puppies.

Many people subscribe to the concept of perception being reality. We, the viewers, understand that Girl 22 cannot truly be in love with Bachelor 09. It's obvious. However, Girl 22 clearly BELIEVES that she is. Therefore, when she is sent packing after giving so much of herself, she suffers from a broken heart. Anyone that has truly suffered from a broken heart understands that it is a tangible physical pain. Girl 22 is suffering. And we, the American public, clear our schedules of more productive activities so we can watch Girl 22 suffer. Idol contestants honestly believe they have the ability to sing. I've even heard one claim that her voice was a gift from God. In reality she sounded like a donkey bleeding to death in a metal barn. The judges are quick to laugh and berate, and the donkey leaves the show with a shattered soul. Anyone that has had a dream...a heart's desire, and has seen that dream crushed, understands the pain the donkey is going through. Yet we gather to watch it and discuss it at work the following day.

What is the motivating force behind contestants opening themselves up to this torture? Money. Survivor contestants starve themselves and abandon their families for months at a time for the outside chance of winning a million dollars. My 2nd favorite survivor of all time is Rupert Boneham (my all time favorite is Greg from season 1.) Rupert came across as a humble, emotional, sensitive, STRONG man whose goal was to win money for his family and his foundation to help troubled kids. I actually met Rupert at the Atlanta airport. He was sitting off to the side totally unbothered by the public. People were whispering and pointing of course, but I was the only one that actually went over to him. "Rupert, I'd like to shake your hand. You did a fantastic job and my family loved watching you." He gave his big toothy pirate smile and signed my notebook with a sharpie he kept in a holster. He was on his way to talk with a video game company that wanted to develop a game around his character. His comment...."I'll talk to anyone that'll pay me." Interesting answer. Even after the show, after winning a million bucks, Rupert was still all about the benjamins. I have to wonder if these shows permanently change people. Clearly this is the case with The Moment of Truth. Contestant after contestant willingly ruins his life by confessing unimaginable truths just to win some money. Some things are better left unsaid. And unknown.

I believe reality television has revolutionized entertainment, but not for the better. There are some great shows like The Biggest Loser, Supernanny, and Dancing With the Stars. But the vast majority simply puts human misery on public display. Today’s reality TV may not show people’s lives being lost, but it openly shows people’s souls being crushed. And that just might be the greater evil.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Mid-life crisis. At 30?!

30 was a tough birthday. I'm not sure why. I certainly don't feel old on an emotional level. My body is definitely starting to fail, but I attribute that to meat and cheese platters and chocolate death brownies at 1:30 a.m. as opposed to the natural aging process. Oh, and the extent of my exercise would be the 11 steps from my underground lair to the kitchen...which winds me every time. Nevertheless, when I hit 30 I felt like I needed something to make me feel young and groovy again. People with money buy Harleys or get their eyes done. People without money have to improvise. Me? I bought a drum set.

I'd never played the drums. I tried once at a friend's house in high school and instantly realized that it was brutally difficult. You have to have a minimum of three appendages that are all doing different things, keeping different beats, and working independently of one another. Good drummers do that with all FOUR appendages. I throw in the fourth every once in a while for effect, but any more than that and the whole train derails. When I bought my set I was entirely lost on where to start. I didn't know how to set it up, how to hold the sticks, which hand hits which thingy.

My brother in law has a friend named Loftin who is one of the most naturally gifted and "tuned in" musicians I've ever known. He suggested that Loftin come over and show me a few things. So he did. He set the kit up for me and showed me a few basics. Surprisingly I picked it up rather quickly. I started listening for rhythm patterns and drum beats in every song I listened to. I learned immediately that MY favorite music had impossibly complicated drumming, but 95% of the crap on the radio was unbelievably simple. So I started to get comfortable on the kit.

Loftin and I began jamming at his house...just the two of us. Bass and drums. He then introduced me to an insane guitarist named Randy (conveniently off camera.) We started to jam together and Tuesday nights quickly became something I looked forward to every week. We recently added vocals. Heather (Mable) is providing the pipes.

Last night I took a camcorder to our session just to see how we sounded since oftentimes my cacophonous drumming drowns everything out from where I sit. I am thrilled with the result.

Music is my heart and soul. I would never purposely listen to much of the music we play, but things totally change when you are actually CREATING the sound.

Please keep in mind that we are young and fledgling. I welcome your praise, but your sincere constructive criticism might just break my soul. And we will all be referring our friends and loved ones to this page. So if you hate it, pretend that you don't and post a comment glorifying our effort. Lie through your teeth. Then maybe we can talk offline and I'll get the REAL scoop. Honestly, please comment.

We need some work. We need some polish. We need GROUPIES. But I'm pretty proud of what we're doing. The first video is a cover of "Lullaby" by The Cure. The second is "Say it Ain't So" by Weezer. The final clip consists of snippets from a few other songs we are working on. Randy is also a brilliant songwriter and he has 5 songs he has laid down guitar and vocals for. I can't wait to get started on those. Covering songs is fun, but creating your own art is beyond description.






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