Thursday, May 26, 2011

Top 20 Friendships of All-Time Part 2

It's Thursday, my Puddlers, and I'm back to provide you with Part 2 of the Top Twenty Friendships of All-Time. You can look at Part 1 of the list by clicking here.

Before we begin there are a few honorable mentions that did not make it on this list: Artie and Larry Sanders, Bart Simpson and Millhouse, Laverne and Shirley, Rory Gilmore and Paris Gellar (for the evolution), Bruce Springsteen and his guitar, Michael Jordan and Charles Oakley, Zach Morris and Jesse Spano, Zach Morris and Skreech. Those are only a few of the honorable mentions and you can feel free to contact me with some of the friendships that you think are tragically missing from this list. I'd be glad to hear and entertain your arguments.

One more note before we begin: Dirk Nowitzki is playing out of his mind right now. If you are a marginal fan of basketball, you need to watch what Dirk is doing on a nightly basis. He is making impossible shots seem easy. His fadeaway is unguardable and his one-legged jumper has become the only other trademark move of this current era besides the Rondo fake/scoop layup. It has been absolute treat to watch Dirk play over the past month and I can only hope he continues to play at this level in the Finals, because it will only make it that much better and competitive.

Now, we continue with the Top 20 Friendships of All-Time:

10. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -  This may have been the first “buddy” movie of all-time. I say that unofficially, but I am fairly confident in my assessment. Some may say that the relationship between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was more a “here and sidekick” relationship, but I see it as more of an evolutionary Don Quixote and Sancho Panza dynamic. Cassidy’s time in the world is up, but he refuses to believe it. The Kid is more of an equal to Cassidy than Sancho Panza was to Quixote, but he doesn’t know any better about the world changing so they continue on in their outlaw adventures in the face of their unknown pursuers—continuing a delusion about their own existences.  So there’s that and also the fact that they both like the same woman but manage to not fight over her. And something has to be said about dying side by side with your friend in Bolivia in a gunfight when you are completely outnumbered by Bolivian soldiers. Finally, they are both so handsome and cool. I definitely think that I have more of a Cassidy (read Newman) vibe—impossibly good looking and distinguished.

9. Aaliyah and Missy Elliott – Their friendship was perhaps the most prominent female friendship in modern R&B, although it only lasted a short time. They were both cutting edge artists who worked together as well as with Timbaland at the turn of the millennium. There’s actually not much more I can say about this friendship other than the fact that they both made some revolutionary music about ten years ago and that Missy paid tribute to Aaliyah after she died like any true friend would. What? What else do you want from me? I’ve expounded about plenty of fictional and real friendships so far and there was bound to be one that was a little shorter than the rest, right?

8. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel – Their friendship is like a fine wine: aged, stored in a musty cellar over time, has a slightly bitter taste at the back of the tongue but with a slightly sweet, full-bodied finish. Simon and Garfunkel first met each other in elementary school in Forest Hills, Queens and started singing together at a very young age. They split up after high school, but reconnected a few years later and created some of the most memorable music and harmonies of all-time. Can you imagine creating an enduring and complex work of art like Bookends or Bridge Over Troubled Water with your childhood friend? Imagine you are Paul Simon and you have just written “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and you know your friend and singing partner so well that you understand he will master the song more than you ever could. Sure they fought and broke up, but it gave us “The Only Living Boy in New York.” And they had perhaps the most famous friend reunion ever at their 1981 Central Park concert, which was complete with rain and a record audience. Sounds like a Top 10 friendship to me.

7. Martina Navratilova and Chrissy Evert – This was a classic sports friendship. By that I mean that the excellence of these two women at tennis and their exhaustive competition completely overshadowed the fact that they were actually great friends. Also, their respective images caused people to confuse their personalities. Chrissy Evert with her blonde hair and turn of the 1980’s good looks was seen as the delicate and graceful champion. Meanwhile, Navratilova, with her gawky, slightly masculine appearance and eastern European bark, was seen as the hyper competitive aggressor. Well, that and she started to dominate Evert and every other women’s tennis player in the era. In reality, Evert was far more competitive and outspoken while Navratilova was humble and mild mannered. The public’s misconception and focus on their rivalry only brought these two women closer together as friends.

6. Thelma and Louise – No friendship list would be complete without Louise Elizabeth Sawyer and Thelma Yvonne Dickinson. First of all, these two just get credit in general for basically setting the tone for early 90’s women’s looks and fashion—Geena Davis especially since she was one of the archetypal babes of the 1988-1993 era. In the more specific, you have to like this friendship because of the way that these two women bonded over their trapped lives and were able to take a stab at some kind of freedom or liberation even if it got away from them. Their relationship is the go-to relationship for female outlaws and perhaps female buddy movies in general. There is nothing that says friendship or loyalty more than killing a guy who is trying to rape your friend and then going on a road trip to stay on the lamb and avoid the feds. Plus they have the iconic image of driving the 1966 Thunderbird Convertible off the cliff as they hold hands. All women should be so lucky to be friends like Thelma and Louise were.

5. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson – This is perhaps the greatest sports friendship of all time and one of the best overall sports stories, as I have previously written about. There were countless themes and factors that tried to stand in the way of the friendship between Magic and Bird: race, natural rivalry, NBA lineage rivalry, and personality. However, these two not only channeled all of those things into some of the most compelling athletics ever, but also into a lasting friendship. Larry and Magic were not friends for much of their NBA careers. It wasn’t until the late 80’s that they began to actually speak to each other. However, it was the usually reserved Bird that publicly showed his love if Magic when he expressed such great concern and sorrow over Magic’s contraction of HIV in 1991. These two friends not only had a legendary impact on the game of basketball, they also had an impact on each other’s lives. Two polar opposites who combined to drive and inspire the other.

4. Doc Brown and Marty McFlyNo one in Hill Valley ever questioned the friendship between a 17 year old 80’s rocker and an eccentric old man scientist. The reason was because the friendship between Marty McFly and Doc Brown was so great. These two not only set the bar for time travel, but they also made the Delorean one of the most iconic cars of all time. Their sense of adventure and scientific curiosity often put the balance of the universe and our very existence in jeopardy, but everything seemed to work out. Sure Marty caused Doc to let a “Great Scott!” from time to time or Doc’s scientific jargon left Marty baffled—overall these two understood each other. How else do you explain the intuition of Doc flying the Delorean up the side of Biff Towers in the alternate 1985 to allow Marty to jump off the roof onto the hood of the Delorean so he could smack middle-aged alternate Biff in the face with the Delorean door in order to escape from being shot and go back to 1955 to correct the space-time continuum? All of us can only wish that we had the ability to read our friends’ minds that well. I’d argue that the adventures of Doc Brown and Marty McFly have not been surpassed in the past 25 years. Were this old man and this young 1980’s teen great friends? You’re damn right they were.

3. Neal Cassidy and Jack Kerouac – With all due respect to Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway, the friendship between Jack and Neal has been the most influential friendship on my life, which is something that thousands of men can say. Kerouac and Cassidy set the blueprint for the modern male friendship. They were young, good-looking, all-American, adventurous, maintained a prolonged friendship, shared the other’s wife/girl at the time, and devoted an intense attention to each other that people often mistook for homosexuality. The friendship between Neal and Jack represented what all guys want, a buddy to take road trips with; to smoke cigarettes and drink bad coffee with; to drive maniacally across the country and pick up women, but to also marvel at the natural beauty of the world as well as the simple holiness of a stretch of road or the seats in a diner or vanilla ice cream on apple pie. You have the trope of the book smart introvert who longs to be a freewheeling, street-smart, naturally masculine con artist in play. The writer who loved women but is awkward and clumsy around them confessing his soul, while the other is an expert driver who seems to fall into a girl in every town and makes them all fall in love with him. In a moment of fervor (I won’t say what substance was fueling me) I once turned to my friend Chris Redder on the way to a keg party in out senior year of high school and said, “You’re the Neal to my Jack.” And we ambled along in his white Jeep in the fading twilight of one of those high school springs that you can never get back. The keg party was good that night—we owned it. Any guy lives to be able to say that phrase about a friend. You may not be able to get those twilights back, but you can cherish the enduring friendship and mythology.

2. Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King This is a timely friendship due to the fact that Oprah’s show just went off the air after 25 years and there is not much I can really add to what this friendship symbolizes. Oprah is the most powerful woman in the world and one of the most, if not the most powerful media presence in the world. Gayle King is her best friend as well as an intelligent editor, radio show host and general advice giver. The two have been friends for over 30 years and have a close bond and attention to each other that people often mistake for homosexuality, which, as we covered in the previous entry, is the sign of an iconic friendship. In the modern era, when people refer to being good friends, they use Oprah and Gayle as the example. And that’s not just between my friends and I, women usually do it as well. Basically, when you say Oprah and Gayle, everyone—even a majority of men—knows you are talking about two great friends. To me, that factor alone has to put them in the Top 3.

1. John Lennon and Paul McCartney – Some people may scoff at this one since John and Paul were collaborators and band mates more than they were actually friends. However, they started off as teenage boys in Liverpool and they started off as friends. As I’ve covered before, the Beatles are such a unique phenomenon that it’s hard to delve into their mythology time and time again. However, I love the Beatles and I love both Paul McCartney and John Lennon in such great amounts that we have to dive in. Paul and John were close friends just as the Beatles were as a band. However, through their friendship and partnership some of the most enduring tropes were developed for collaboration, the most notable of course being that John was the smart one who wrote more complex, confessional lyrics and harder edged songs, while Paul was more whimsical and tended to write songs about funny characters and could toss off a simple melody with ease. Anyone who has had a creative friend or a friend in general tends to think of where they fit in the John and Paul dynamic, whether you are working on a musical project or any other artistic endeavor or if you are just reacting some event in your life. You take a minute to wonder, “Am I John or Paul in this scenario?” Their partnership driving the Beatles for most of their time as band almost singlehandedly changed the pop-culture of the entire world. Their partnership has left an indelible mark not only on music in general, but also humanity. We all know that they had a falling out that lasted pretty much until John was assassinated, but the true grief and devastation that Paul felt after John died was the emotion born out of being friends with, knowing and loving someone for a long, long time. That was at the heart of the Lennon/McCartney partnership and for that reason they get the number one ranking on yet another perfect list that you can’t really argue with.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Top 20 Friendships of All-Time Part 1

One of the best parts about reading this blog is observing and enjoying the lists that I post from time to time. One of the other great parts about reading this blog is intently following my long, romantic and poignant posts on friendship, which is probably the virtue I have sought to define for much of the twenty-five years I have been alive. I’ve quoted Michael Chabon before, but his quote from The Mysteries of Pittsburgh that it is friendship and not love that truly eludes us is probably one of the most true statements that has ever been written. One could write for hours about what it means to be a good friend to another person. What a good male friendship consists of or what a great female friendship consists of. And even more hours could be spent analyzing male and female friendships or whether the relationship between men and women is ever truly a friendship. There are layers upon layers and gestures upon gestures that lead us to great and meaningful discoveries about who we are as people and what we value in others. We can make great virtues out of our friendships and drive our friends crazy by holding them to high standards, or we can place little value on friendship and sleep with our best friend’s girlfriend. And even then, there is plenty of grey area. It is a topic I will spend the rest of my life trying to define.

However, in the meantime I’ve decided to probe history, movies, TV, music and literature in order to find the Top 20 Friendships of all-time. This list is so in depth and eloquent that we’re breaking it up into two parts. Believe me, that’s definitely the reason we’re splitting it up and not because I had to fill in some space this week.

So, without further ado, here is my list of the Top 20 Friendships of All-Time:

20. Dawson Leary and Joey Potter – I think that this ranking will immediately have some dissenters due to the fact that these two characters have a spot in any twenty-something’s heart. Dawson Leary and Joey Potter were introduced to us in 1997 on the WB and for those of us in our early to mid teens were directly influenced by the relationship between Dawson and Joey. She was the pretty tomboy who snuck into his window at night to talk about life. He was the film geek who just couldn’t see how beautiful she actually was and that he loved her. There was a classic element of tragedy to their friendship and that tragedy was called love. The fact that Dawson romantically loved Joey is actually what drops them down on this list. Sure they had a star-crossed romance that eventually ended up with them not being together. But over that time you can’t overlook that these friends slept together, which somehow disqualifies them from the mystic connection that an actual friendship is. With romance, you can pin the sensation down from time to time and express love, passion or romance in sex. Friendship is only briefly defined by obscure actions, nonchalant conversation and beer that slowly fades away. Some may believe in sex being possible between friends (e.g. the Natalie Portman fuck-buddy movie) but I’m more of a skeptic. Sorry Joey and Dawson, maybe you should have stuck to talking shop about Spielberg.

19. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – This has become one of the most underrated friendships of all time. These guys were once bitter political rivals in the early days of this country. They both lived in the shadow of George Washington and were trying to form the country in line with their own strong visions. It was a classic story of fame and politics getting between two friends. Adams and Jefferson were originally close during the days of the Revolutionary War, even setting some Lennon/McCartney precedents by penning the “Declaration of Independence” together. However, the growing interests of this country both home and abroad tore them apart. The greatest betrayal may have been Adams’ appointment of the “Midnight Judges” after he lost the 1800 election to Jefferson in an attempt to spoil Jefferson’s presidency by putting some of his men in the Supreme Court right before his term was up. Jefferson was able to pass legislation to remove these men from office and slowly their friendship resumed as the bright candles of the White House faded from each of their eyes. They started an epic letter correspondence (like two other friends who will appear on this list) until the day they died—which was the same day. On his deathbed, Adams famously uttered, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” However, before the Internet and Twitter there was no way he could have known that his friend had already died a few hours earlier. Nothing says friendship more than the belief that no matter how you fail or no matter if your time is up, you are thinking about how your buddy is continuing on.

18. Monica Geller/Rachel Green/ Phoebe Buffay – This list would be not be complete with out an entry from the legendary sitcom Friends, which was probably one of the most iconic cultural items of the entire decade of the 1990’s. Some would say that Joey and Chandler were the better “friends” on the show, but I have to give it to the girls. Friends as a show was not believable in the slightest, but it seemed like the fights between Monica and Rachel were more believable as friends. Now, Phoebe generally didn’t have storylines involving her fighting with Monica or Rachel, but she was definitely a good source of comic relief to ease the tension when there was a fight. And of course she had her feelings hurt from time to time as well. We’ve all seen the show—these women had some good times and some bad times. They fought with each other and slept with men that the other liked. They all lived in New York in the same apartment and waited a long time to have kids in non-traditional ways. Wait a second; maybe the show was more realistic than I thought.

17. Han Solo and Chewbacca – This might be the most famous interstellar friendship of all time. Spock and Captain Kirk were too aloof. Now, friends will be aloof, but their relationship was different, it felt too professional. Obi wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker had more of an older brother/younger brother dynamic and Luke and Han had a sort of romantic rival dynamic that was eventually settled when it was revealed that Leia was Luke’s sister. Han and Chewy, now that was a friendship. From the moment we meet them in A New Hope, we get a sense of their back-story, that this galactic swashbuckler and his large hairy friend had all kinds of adventures together and truly cared about each other. You can picture Han and Chewy behind the wheel of the Millennium Falcon on some long space startrip across a galaxy far, far away, smoking cigarettes and listening to the Replacebots and just idly talking and roaring about how strange life can be and how just the simple good looks of a spacewoman can ease their aching hearts. If you don’t think that these were the two of the greatest friends of all time, then you are racist and need to look at yourself in the mirror.

16. Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway - "That is what you are. That's what you all are...All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation." That is the concluding line of a story about a mechanic that Gertrude Stein told to Ernest Hemingway, which inspired his inscription for The Sun Also Rises. Their friendship was a short but powerful friendship. Stein introduced Hemingway to bullfighting, encouraged him to give up journalism and embrace fiction and even helped edit some of his earliest work. Stein was like a mother figure to Hemingway, which is a friendship that is not often discussed in the world and literature: mother as friend to son. Now, of course there were Oedipal undertones as Hemingway has admitted that he wanted to sleep with Stein because of the fact that she reminded him of his mother, but they never did (unlike Dawson and Joey). They had a terrible falling out in 1926 that cut their friendship short. But they had already helped each other in many ways in their art, in their identity as Americans abroad and in life.

15. Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza – Some people may complain about this ranking, however, I was conflicted putting these two in even this slot. My main issue with the Seinfeld/Costanza friendship was this elemental fact—were they even friends? Think about it: one of the fundamental traits of the characters of Seinfeld was the fact that they all took some level of pleasure in the misfortune of others, including their own “friends.” That fact made the show realistic, because there is an element of truth in the fact of wanting to see the misfortune of others. Even in groups of friends, we laugh when a friend trips or “eats it.” We love to see slapstick happen to the people we like spending time with; it is one of the strangest phenomena in life. So, when George got into a mess, who was the first to laugh most of the time? Jerry. And vice versa. Now, that still doesn’t overlook the fact that these two grew up together and that Jerry let George spend so much time at his apartment venting about all his problems, lies and insecurities. Now, that is the mark of a true friend: listening and generosity. People may claim that Elaine and Jerry had the better friendship, but their friendship was based on romance and then the resulting post-relationship sexual tension, which is a rare occurrence. However, in my mind the non-sexual tension trumps a sexual-tension related friendship. Any woman that I have sexual tension with I usually don’t call my friend because I’d be thinking about sex more often than our friendship. If I have sexual tension with a girl, I tend to call her “this girl I know,” rather than “my friend.” To me, that’s just being honest with myself because I never think about sleeping with any of my friends.

14. Rory Gilmore and Lane Kim – Another rule of this list is that it does not include the “family friendships.” Obviously Rory Gilmore and Lorelai Gilmore as “friends” would be in the top five of any “Top Friendships” lists; that fact is undeniable. But you still have to give credit to the other anchor in Rory Gilmore’s life, the indefatigable Lane Kim. Lane is the epitome of a rock scholar. When Lane talks shop to Rory you learn something every time. Due to her strict Korean upbringing she even had to install a secret compartment in the floor of her room to store all of her records. Those were records she shared with Rory so she could outsmart any snobby girl or guy at Chilton or Yale. Also, Rory needed to know some deep cuts to keep up her witty banter with Jess outside of Luke’s Diner or by the gas station. This friendship wasn’t a one-way street either. Rory helped Lane with all of her schemes to sneak out of the house or to go to a party to meet her bandmate and boyfriend Dave. Rory also convinced Lorelai to let Lane’s band practice in their garage. Lane and Rory’s friendship endured Rory going to a different high school and then going away to college. Speaking as a person who has retained friendships with some people for nearly fifteen years, I can safely say that maintaining a close friendship over the passing of years and circumstances is no joke. We could delve into the different nuances of a “maintained friendship,” but lets just settle on the fact that Lane Kim and Rory Gilmore were some of the best friends to come out of Star’s Hollow, Connecticut.

13. Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway – One of the most mythic and ambiguous friendships in history, the relationship between Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby has influenced me perhaps more than any other in fiction, history or real life. It was the friendship with Jay Gatsby that caused Nick to utter the famous line that he wanted “no more privileged glimpses into the hearts of men,” which is how most male friends and even female friends feel from time to time when confronted with the enormity of what being a friend means. “No, no more. I can’t have any more empathy.” It might just be the melancholy yet crisp nature of the prose or of the tragedy of the story itself, but the relationship between Nick and Gatsby just seems to mean so much. Gatsby represents a romantic way of looking at the world, while Nick retains some sort of pragmatism and yet finds the appeal in Gatsby’s way of seeing the world. Nick sees some value in the kindness and attention that Gatsby can display with a smile or an “old sport.” And Nick ultimately sees how the world will use up a man with all of Gatbsy’s traits and just move onto the next house lit up with money and the glow of champagne. Nick is not able to save Gatsby, but he does relay one heartfelt compliment to him, by stating that he’s better than the rest of their group near the end of the novel. We never see things from Gatsby’s perspective, but in real life, sometimes its just that one comment, that one compliment from a friend that can make all the difference—that one phrase that illuminates the relationship in a new way.

12. Sancho Panza and Don Quixote – This friendship has perhaps been overlooked due to the fact that it is a well-established tenet of western literature (i.e. no one reads Don Quixote anymore), but it is one of the most iconic. You have the hero (even if he is comedic) and his trusty sidekick. The sidekick supports him on his foolish whims because he actually doesn’t know better himself and even plays a joke on the hero at one point because he can’t resist (isn’t this how most guys spend most of their 20’s?). The two go on an epic journey together, which was one of the earliest and most well-known “road trips” along with The Odyssey and Pilgrim’s Progress. The friendship between Sancho Panza and Don Quixote suffers because they are embedded in our consciousness and culture in ways that we have forgotten. However, all you need to know is that Sancho Panza was by Quixote’s side when he thought he couldn’t go on anymore.

11. Bob Uecker and Norm MacDonald – I’ll admit that this friendship gets such a high ranking because of its seemingly random nature and also because I love both of these guys independently that finding out they were weird cross-generational friends was just an added bonus.  Their friendship can basically be summed up in this story told by Norm MacDonald in a vintage Letterman moment (at this point Letterman has that same “I don’t care vibe” that MacDonald does, though Norm is much warmer and less curmudgeonly in his vibe).  The friendship between Uecker and MacDonald covers that strange and great situation where you have an old guy who is friends with a middle-aged guy because they share some kind of ancient secret of men.  Norm MacDonald and Bob Uecker just seem like two guys. It’s as simple as that. One has made a career out of a great announcing voice and a love for baseball and just happens to be a funny guy; the other on his love of comedy and a unique delivery. They are both just men in the most non-testosterone way possible.  They remind me of beer and putting on a worn navy blue hat. There is something to be said for that.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mark for Mark's Sake

It's been a long rainy week, my Puddlers, but we've made it to Friday.  The summer is looming in the distance, so lets try to enjoy these small windows to huddle up in our apartments and watch mist descend over the city, while we slowly drink beer and feel some sort of impalpable sadness.  All of that will pass soon and it will be hot in the morning and hot in the day. We will drink hot coffee in the morning and cold beer by dusk.  And things will be impossible and great as always.

I'm writing this intro after just rereading Mark Jack's post from today. I think it fits the mood of this week, this spring and everything going forward. Read and enjoy.

Oh, and RIP Macho Man Randy Savage. A truly formative influence on my life.

Now, here is Mark Jack.

The Arab Spring in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Mark Jack

Sometimes I find myself grinding my teeth down and shrinking my hands into little diamond fists from anger. I do not know why.

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has contending groups of black clad security forces arresting, then releasing, then arresting again scores of protestors and innocent—meaning indirectly involved—Syrians. The numbers of detained and possibly tortured are a matter of guesswork. Soccer stadiums are being filled. Soon, perhaps, these confused men in black will skip a step and make it easier on everyone by declaring whole towns prisons. The absurdity of it all in no way detracts from the seriousness. Just as Quadaffi, as silly as he is, as megalomaniacal as he has been in his revolutionary stance, has still been solely responsible for great suffering. As an American, the immediate response to the conflicts in the Middle East is to ask how we should involve ourselves.  Do we impose embargos? Do we intervene monetarily or militarily? Do we bring criminal charges and freeze the bank accounts of these dictators? Do we finally, after so much time ignoring it all, enforce the rule of law? As we ponder our options, we congratulate ourselves and our facebook groups, and we get it, and we see the youth, and we dream of beautiful reforms, which are just a siphoning off of potentialities.

And yet, what am I upset about? Am I upset? No. Not really. Just a little sad maybe. I’m not sure what understanding we may be generating and disseminating with the modern tools so often praised. Self-immolation doesn’t photograph as well after Thich Quang Duc, perhaps, but it’s still a powerful, almost primal protest. Guernica is maybe the type of understanding we need to focus on. We need to search for artistic understanding. Even if I am overwhelmingly informed of the atrocities in Libya or Syria or anywhere I do not feel that I am even close to understanding them, which too often means “mastery.” Perhaps it is better to not attempt realisms here; perhaps we are given too quickly to anonymous protestors and overcome by their adrenaline but not their confusion. We must seek to stare up at the twisted feet of the stumbling lady in Picasso’s painting and not understand, and not know, but at least to feel. I’m not sure how this can be politically implemented, but it’s a better start than the punditry we espouse and regurgitate now.

I can’t help but think that art is the only response to atrocity, to tragedy. Artistic response is the only response that, at least if done well, does not in some way diminish by encapsulation, the tragic event, as in explanatory news stories and the like. While I do truly believe this, I can’t help but think that Picasso’s painting did nothing to stop the Spanish Civil War and has never acted as deterrent, unless you consider its covering during Powell’s speech to the UN urging war with Iraq. Even then, Bush still bombed.

So I’m going on walks these days, angry, or at least a little on edge, and when I get home the news has some new terrible event that isn’t, maybe, new, but at least I could avoid it before and now I just feel so impotent.

Much of the readings of these revolts and protests center on a notion of revolution called the J-curve. Basically, if a closed, undemocratic society stays that way it will remain stable. However, as outside factors intrude, the country becomes open to raised expectations—economic growth, or access to the lifestyles of a more open society (through the internet, say). These expectations then run into the closed authoritarian political space. The dictator has two options, according to this theory: beat down the revolting populace and lower expectations, in a manner of speaking, or grant concessions that will bring about an at least temporary or convincing but illusory openness to society.

All of these things are so tired, and don’t really mean anything, and don’t lead to any understanding. Every field has some tired-ass J looking graph that illustrates only lack of insight. And just because I find it offensive that bourgeois expectations of material well-being would be understanding enough for revolt against violent and absurdist dictatorships doesn’t mean Egyptians don’t, in some even quite large way, just want new shoes.

So, look, I’m still just looking around at New York, peacefully existing, being beautiful and absurd, and the gap between what I experience and what I’m told other’s experience is so very frustrating, but I’m not sure we can really close it.

I believe we should all seek this.



Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Theoharides On Bridesmaids

Welcome to Wednesday, my Puddlers. Its been a rainy week here in New York, so that means there are plenty of actual, literal puddles to jump on, slide around in and pour down your pants. However, rain or shine there will always be Puddles of Myself to enjoy. 

I hope you all enjoyed the Fleet Foxes review from yesterday. Next week we will have the Top 20 Friendships of All-Time as well as our regular columnists Alex Theoharides and Mark Jack. I am still accepting any guest submissions to feature so please feel free to e-mail me at any time.

I just want to mention three links today. You may have noticed the tag-line on the page header giving a shout out to Sea Bean Goods and Real Sorbet. These are two culinary endeavors undertaken by great friends of mine and recommend that you throw your full support behind both. You can find links on the sidebar to the right.  Also, please check out Sam Skarstaad's new album. The first track alone is worth a download or just five streaming minutes of your time.

Now, I turn it over to Alex Theoharides to pick up the slack.

Theoharides On Bridesmaids or Why I Gave Up My Saturday Night to Watch Jon Hamm Act Like a Class A Richard

Alex Theoharides

First, a clearing of my rather snobbish nose: If I have to watch another topical George Clooney film about the war in Iraq or the state of the Economy, I might just have to write a blog post about how much I hate modern films (Oh crap, I think I just… ).  I’ve largely lost interest in movies as televisions shows such as The Wire, The Office, Mad Men, Friday Night Lights, and my latest craze, Sons of Anarchy, have consumed most of my viewing time. Movies are too long, too predictable, and quite often, just too damn run-of-the-mill. There are several better things I could do on a Saturday night—namely watch the NBA Playoffs, which, might I add, have been fantastic.

However, this past Saturday night there were no NBA games on, it was cold and rainy in Minneapolis (go figure), and after spending the previous few weeks in a state of extreme depression due to the demise of the Celtics, I owed my gal (henceforth known by her pseudonym Myrtle Schmeckpepper) a night spent watching a mindless chick flick. Which isn’t to suggest I don’t enjoy chick flicks. I have two sisters and I grew up watching Anne of Green Gables and Little Women and Little House on the Prairie and When Harry Met Sally and the Gilmore Girls and and and …  the list goes on. It only got worse in college, peaking when I spent a fortnight plowing through the first two seasons of the show Felicity (#unforgivable). In fact, I’d go as far as to say that after graduating from Skidmore College, with its 60-40 girls to guy ratio, I earned an advanced degree in Chick Flicks. I know why Love Actually can be perceived as arrogant male propaganda (really?, an Ugly Brit manages to score four sexually adventurous girls in a Wisconsin bar?). I could write a term paper on why Rory Gilmore (of previously mentioned Gilmore Girls’ fame) had to leave Logan in the show’s final episode to follow the Obama campaign (yes because that’s how journalism careers are made). And without breaking a sweat, I could tell you why Joey Potter (yes, Tommy Cruise’s cuddle buddy) chose Pacey Witter over Dawson Leery even though the show (yes, idiots, Dawson’s Creek) was named after him. It had something to do with this and this. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t particularly difficult for Ms. Schmeckpepper to convince me of the value of going to see a movie, especially when I read in Molly Lambert’s excellent Grantland teaser that it had the potential to become a female Caddyshack.

Please note, teaser alert begins now. Although anyone who thinks that Bridesmaids is the type of movie that needs a teaser alert is an idiot. (Sorry Matt, I promise I’ll stop calling your readers idiots soon, I promise)(after this one last time)(that’s right, you’re all idiots!)

Going to the theater is a rather miraculous experience in socialization. For some reason, if I’m watching a movie at home, and Ms. Schmeckpepper so much as fidgets in her seat , I feel the need to pause the program, shush her like that boy scout we all had in our third grade class who thought it was disrespectful to talk during the pledge of allegiance, and generally behave like a boor. However, within the rather sticky confines of a movie theater, I not only abide by any manner of sounds—the crunch of popcorn, the suck of straws, the ceaseless running of the mouth—I actually crave them, believing, naive schoolboy that I am, that they somehow add a certain quality to the experience, a sense of community, if you will. The crowd at Bridesmaids didn’t disappoint. I was out-gendered, easily 10 to 1.  The woman in front of me didn’t stop laughing from the moment the previews began. And the smell of buttery popcorn lingered over every seat. It was all so wonderful.

The movie was exactly what I expected it to be. Kristin Wiig, the only funny cast member left on Saturday Night Live, carried the performance from start (ladies, time to get your Hamm on) to finish (A Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On” dance sequence, need I say more). She played a downbeat woman trying to find love in this crazy world of ours, all while trying to be her best friend’s Maid of Honor. Like any Judd Apatow movie (and yes, I know he was just the producer not the director, but it was still an Apatow movie) the dialogue was fresh, the comedy raunchy, and the bit characters often stole scenes from the stars. In particular, Melissa McCarthy (yes, Sookie St. James from the Gilmore Girls) killed it, becoming, I hope, this summer’s Zach Galifianakis. The only unfortunate side effect being that right around the time she began to take her talents to South Beach (if her talents were diarrhea and South Beach was a white porcelain sink) on the silver screen, I realized I could never watch Gilmore Girls in quite the same way. And yes, I re-watch Gilmore Girls. And yes, I often do so on the Soap Network. Why? Who’s asking?

Other stellar performances include Chris O’Dowd as Wiig’s likable, and discreetly funny love interest (think Seth Rogen from Knocked Up, minus the Mary Jane and man boobs, plus a badge and a Scottish accent), Rebel Wilson and Matt Lucas as a social inept brother sister tandem, and … unfortunately that’s it. Many of the actors came across flat. Particularly, Wiig’s best friend in the film, who was played by the a little to good to be believable Maya Ruldolph, and her antagonist, Rose Byrne, who plays a villainous bridesmaid that tries to steal the role of Maid of Honor from Wiig. The flatness in both cases was not the fault the actors—it was the fault of the writing. The actors were given stereotypical roles (flustered bride, overeager and lonely rich young wife) and asked to make magic. They didn’t. I can live with that.

Bridesmaids was a fun, summer movie. It wasn’t great, and sadly, it certainly wasn’t a Chick Flick Caddyshack. It just wasn’t.

Final grade: B-

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Help!: A Review of Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes

The first line on Helplessness Blues, the fantastic new album by Fleet Foxes, is “so now I am older, than my mother and father, when they had their daughter, so what does that say about me?” It is the best lyric of the past fifteen years and perhaps the most apropos to this current generation of youth that is seeing the population rate slowly move to an inverse pyramid—that is to say we are doing things later than before, including having kids. We can learn things better and quicker than our parents or our grandparents; we can go to the far ends of the Earth with easier access, though with perhaps more fear, and embark on more adventures than our mothers and fathers ever imagined. However, we seem to lack the want or desire to manifest love or to start families. We have the urge and the vague longing for deep love, but not the means to make it real. We contain the notion of family, but not the understanding of what it takes to be a parent. Our lives are multifaceted and without limits, but we can’t seem to remember what it is that people actually do. And maybe that’s what Helplessness Blues are.

*                          *                        *                         *                        *                       *

When I was in San Francisco on vacation last month, I did the Cliff Walk starting at Sunset Park and heading up to Baker Beach. It was a sunny day and the wind blew as it does in San Francisco—in rising sporadic gusts that are at first warm and then briskly cold. I walked with a girl who I once loved. We climbed stairs made from roots and walked underneath shade. There were spots of sunlight and the flowers were fragrant. I would’ve sweat if I wasn’t so comfortable walking in my sneakers at a good pace. We talked about and around things like people who once loved each other do, recognizing the shape of the other, remembering an attachment, but not noticing the finer details, the fact that those two people walking side by side hadn’t existed five years earlier.

At one point, as we walked up and down hills, we talked about an old friend of hers who had changed.

“She yelled at me for even listening to pop music,” my old love said.

“That’s crazy. Everyone has to listen to pop music even just in passing. It’s just what you do.”

“Exactly,” she said, wiping her brow. “And especially when we used to work in the cafĂ© and make fun of them together.”

I picked up a walking stick and followed behind her as she walked down the path. She continued to talk about her friend.

“She’ll like only listen to the most indie music, the most obscure. And only drink microbrews and eat only completely organic things. All of that is fine, don’t get me wrong, I love good  beer as much as anyone else and eating healthy too. But it’s like you can take the fun out of things if you go too far. You know?”

A view of the Pacific suddenly appeared. You could see the green rounded peaks of Marin and the wind ripping across the water and waves.

“It’s something I’ve thought about,” I said. “Life can be pretty simple.”

She laughed. “You’re one to talk.”

I poked the stick in the dirt as we rose up another hill.

“I know I have a history of reading into things, but I mean that a pop song can just be a pop song. Sure there are plenty of good beers out there, but you can just drink a beer and that can be it. You can just walk somewhere or talk to someone. Life is obviously messy, but there are simple things in it. We can want something simple. We can just get dinner.”

“Right. No, I totally get it.”

We continued walking and eventually the path led to an extraordinarily affluent neighborhood that stood on the cliffs. Each home was more intricate and elaborate than the next, with gates at each driveway and little gatehouses. Vines grew over and along wooden and metal gates, homes and doors were painted solid reds and blues of varying shades. Some homes were white. We walked down to a little beach and, with strong wind blowing in our faces, we ate sandwiches on rocks looking at the Pacific.

“This is what you wanted, right?” she asked.


We ate quietly and drank water, watching a Spanish family climb into the small waves to get to a larger rock. That was the best time we had.

*                          *                        *                         *                        *                       *

Fleet Foxes’ first album, Ragged Wood, could have almost been the soundtrack to the summer of 2008. Their EP Sun Giant had caused plenty of buzz and had caught me off guard when a friend sent it to me, causing me to have one of those “Where did these guys come from?” moments that you have from time to time with a new band. So, when Ragged Wood came out in June of 2008, I and most of my friends had been looking forward to it and were pleased to find out how terrific it was. It was my first summer in Brooklyn and it turned out to be one of the best of my life. Most of us had been out of college for a year and had gotten through the initial blast of post-college depression without much harm. The weather was beautiful and there was plenty of music to see in McCarren Park. I’d run at the track after work as the sun set and then meet friends afterwards at a bar somewhere. We’d spend time at my apartment or on my roof and listen to Ragged Wood. Or, I’d play the album in my down time while I cleaned the apartment without a shirt on, looking forward to drinking a beer outside during the day and getting a tan. The music was pastoral and delicate and seemed to immediately fit right into the canon of Americana music. Songs like “White Winter Hymnal” and “Ragged Wood” had some kind of simplicity and innocence that emnated from them. The group singing and harmonies were something that had not been used so prevelantly in recent years in music. I never even paid attention to the lyrics because the album created such a strong mood, a mood that was carefree and tailor made for the great summer I was having, the first summer of truly feeling like I might actually be an independent adult.

And now Helplessness Blues starts in medias res with that fantastic first line. The “so” suggests that a story has been started before we came in and now here we are, feeling insecure about being older than our parents were when they had their first child, when the had seemingly made the decision to grow up, to care about a life that they created. This is followed by Pecknold’s lament of “oh, man that I used to be, oh man, oh my, oh me,” which sounds very much like any person in their mid to late twenties who goes to work every day and then gets drunk on the weekends and tries to remember what it was to actually like and enjoy things and not just live in a world of waiting for night: waiting for work to end or waiting for it to be time to go out.

There is a darkness to the songs on this album. It is not something sinister or even darkly spiritual—one doesn’t get a sense of questioning their entire existence or the terrible things they are capable of doing. Instead, there is a sense of stock-taking. It is brooding music that is buoyed by the harmonies and the “folk” playing that have been carried over from Ragged Wood. The music on Helplessness Blues reminds me of late-era Simon and Garfunkel more than anything. Where the harmonies on Ragged Wood were so prevelant and startling that they almost seemed forced, though welcome and well-done. After repeated listens, Ragged Wood became a style of music that one played—a back to basics, folky independent rock that wouldn’t be complete without the angelic group harmonies. When you listen to Helplessness Blues a handful of times, you are left with the feeling that what you are listening to is important, that whatever you take from the songs will end up meaning something to you, that this album will be something that you return to in ten years. The harmonies are still there, but they are used to compliment the complexities of the subject matter and the sensations that the band are attempting to give word and music to. There is an heoric, rambling, cinematic quality to “Battery Kinzie” that wouldn’t have appeared on Ragged Wood. Likewise, “Lorelai,” using a Bob Dylan chord progression, is a song that is meaner, more concretely visual and haunting in its presentation of thinking about someone that you can’t love anymore. Who hasn’t spent part of their twenties having long nights with dreams about a lost love? Having dreams so vibrant that they could be real and that makes whatever loss you are feeling fresher than it felt before you went to sleep after a few beers

*                          *                        *                         *                        *                       *

When I finished the Cliff Walk in San Francisco, we waited for a bus in Sunset Park to take us back to the part of the city she lived in. We were both slightly red from the sun and our legs were tired. A slow wind blew along the desolate streets picking up sand and dirt. I thought of Jack Nicholson in Chinatown and for some reason I started humming a song that an acquaintance of mine had written.

“What are you humming?” my old love asked.

This song ‘Take My Car.’ This guy that I know wrote it. Tony Wain.”

She looked away back to the sun over the Pacific. “Don’t know him.”

“He’s a good guy. One of those good people you meet sometimes.”

“Just good Topeka people,” she said.

I recognized the line from a movie I liked. “Do you want to see me feed a mouse to my snake?” I said playing along.

She laughed and we were both quiet as the small electric sign in the bus stop said that there were three more minutes until the bus came. I tried to whistle but my lips were dry and I decided that there was nothing to say.

*                          *                        *                         *                        *                       *

Your twenties are supposed to be the best and worst time of your life; too many movies and songs have tried to capture the aimless feeling of having youth, freedom and not a lot of money. But there is something absolutely attractive about it time and time again. We all look great in our twenties, we are allowed to make mistakes, pick the wrong job, the wrong apartment and the wrong lovers. Everything is at stake and yet nothing is at stake because we have no mortgage, no children, we having nothing to worry about but making money, paying the rent, getting laid and getting drunk. Yet, you listen to a song like “Battery Kinzie” on Helplessness Blues, a song that may not be as obviously poignant as some of the other track, and you can’t help but remember that the whole point of getting to the age of thirty is that you have to learn what it is that is important to take with you. When I hear the song, I think of myself has that heroic loner that I’ve always wanted to be, truly wandering and not caring where I end up. But the truth of the matter is that I know that’s not how it works. You end up wandering through your life, but you are not alone, you just pare things down to the essentials, to what is absolutely important. You find those simple things and you love the hell out of them because they are simple and they can be enjoyed. That’s what you do, even if it means realizing that you don’t recognize people, places and things that were once immensely important to you. And if someone tells you that loving something simple is boring, then they have no sense of adventure.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Must See TV

*Editor's Note: I'm posting this after watching the Celtics lose to the Heat in five games last night. That series was easily a seven game series fit inside of five competitive, exciting and hard fought games that featured excellent defense without slogging play. I hope this is not the end of this Celtics team as we've known them. Even though I have wanted the Heat to win the title all year out of curiosity for their great experiment and what they could possibly achieve if they ever figured it out, I love this Boston Celtics team. I've loved them for the past four seasons. There is something right about the team, from their mixture of talent and chemistry right down to their love of each other and their toughness. Now that they are out of the playoffs, it feels like I have finished a novel where I loved the characters so much that I didn't want to see them go. However, I had to because there was still another story to keep reading and that story may just be the more compelling one than the novel with the characters I loved so much.

It’s no secret that I watch a lot of sports. However, as much as I watch sports, I read about them ten times that amount. I love finding out what all the sportswriters thought about the action of the night before; what meaning they ascribed to a shot or facial expression or the dynamics between players on a specific play.  Sports are rife with symbolism, and signs and symbols are what lie at the heart of our conversations and at the root of our thought.

Despite the amount of sports I watch, I perhaps have only one or two friends who truly love sports, the act of watching a game, the meaning to be gained from a sporting event and the warmth of story and of history wrapping and unfolding around you as the action plays on the screen. My childhood friend Jeff is the main person I talk to about sports. We text during basketball games, football games and even huge golf or tennis events. Hell, one of my favorite sports memories was watching Smarty Jones lose at the Belmont back in 2004 while we ate steaks and drank beer at his old house on the Long Island Sound as the sun set in May and we prepared for our first college summer. I talk to Jeff about sports because I know he understands the moment. My brain retains stats and history better than his (sorry, Jeff, its true) but we both understand the moment and what it means. Plus he has more channels on his TV in the house he lives in now so he gets to watch more games than me.

This past weekend, on Mother’s Day, I happened to be texting with another friend of mine who is starting to love basketball.  He was watching the Lakers implode and lash out against the Mavericks as they lost in disgrace in the Western Conference Semifinals. He texted me about some of Phil Jackson’s funny and off-the-cuff remarks during his press conference about taking peyote. I was immediately itchy and jealous because I wanted to be watching Phil speak, but I was out to dinner with my family.  I pictured Phil at the podium or press table, that slow grin on his face that’s stuck there after any loss because he’s won so much in his career. I could hear his gravelly voice. And I imagined the weight of the moment sinking in. Far off reporter’s voices would sound their muffled questions and Phil would answer. The room would be warm with stale May air and the stadium smell of popcorn, while outside, people in Dallas sunk into the rest of their Sunday afternoon. “This might have been Phil Jackson’s last game as a coach in the NBA.”

I texted my friend: I hate family and I hate girls. They take me away from sports. Of course I was joking—maybe.

The NBA Playoffs have been fantastic, but I’m ashamed to say that I have missed two defining games of these playoffs and also maybe in NBA lore: The Roy Time Machine Game and the Rondo Elbow Game. These are two performances that make it known immediately that History is happening and making itself clearly known to you.  History occurs every day in every small aspect of our lives—we are most definitely History, the culmination of History and Myth—but it is only in those rare instances where History actually makes itself completely visible and graspable and many of those instances occur in sports.

Earlier in the season, they said that Brandon Roy was done. Roy has been the face of the Portland Trailblazers since 2006 when he was drafted into the league.  He has helped reclaim the Portland franchise from being known as the Jailblazers and restored them to the Blazers of Bill Walton’s day—a roster of hard working, team-oriented players. However, like Walton, Roy’s knees have been an issue from Day 1.  And this year it was reported that Roy had no meniscus in his knee, no cartilage to absorb the impact that comes with playing the game of basketball at the highest level, which is what Roy has done since he entered the league. Then, on Saturday, April 23, 2011 Brandon Roy and History crossed paths. The Blazers were down to the Mavericks by 23 points in the third quarter and then trailed by 16 entering the fourth quarter.  That is when Brandon Roy took over. He started driving into the lane, using his unique blend of size and off-speed movement and laying in floaters. He spilled to the baseline as the normally fervent Rose Garden crowd took their pitch to another level, bodies exploding up with raised hands after each basket. Barely anyone was sitting as you could almost feel them trying to figure out if they were in 2008 or in 2011.  Roy tied the game at 82-82 with a little over a minute remaining by converting a four-point play. It seemed like the crowd’s collective head was going to explode. Then, with under a minute to go, Roy hit a bank shot to put the Blazers up 84-82. It was as if the knee problems, the rumors of his career being over, never happened. And when Jason Terry missed a last second three that had a chance to go, the crowd erupted even more than they had before. Seeing everyone pump their fists and jump up and down as a dejected Dirk Nowitzki walked off the floor gave me goose bumps.  And I didn’t even see any of this live. It just gave me goose bumps as I watched the recap on mute on my computer at work.  That’s when you know a game was great. But I missed out on the jaw dropping phenomenon of watching a game like that live, when your skin crawls the entire time and the power of the moment spreads to you, the viewer at home, and you feel like you could take on the world, just like Brandon Roy did on April 23, 2011.  Where was I at the time? I was on a miserable ride home on the LIRR, tracking the game on my iPhone.

Rajon Rondo is currently one of my favorite players in the NBA. He may not be as dependable or offensively skilled as a scorer like Derrick Rose is, but he is a playmaking freak and force of nature. Rondo’s ability to control the basketball, to make freakish layups with his alien hands, is unparalleled in the league (well, maybe, Chris Paul can match it). Some of the moves and motions he makes when he drives or moves the ball around the key have never been seen on a basketball court. Rose is a phenomenal player, an MVP, but he is not singular. We do have Russell Westbrook after all.

This past Saturday, the Boston Celtics played the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Heat had taken a 2-0 lead in the series and were clearly acting as the aggressors against an aging Boston team that usually prides itself on its toughness, on being the team that lands the first blow to the face. The Celtics needed Game 3 and they came out like it. I watched in the kitchen of my parents' home as Boston pulled ahead early.  However, Miami came back and took a lead going into halftime, as the Boston Garden crowd grew anxious.

The Celtics came out with aggression in the third quarter and took a lead.  However, during the quarter as Dwyane Wade drove to the basket, he and Rondo got tangled and fell to the floor. I received a text message from my friend Jeff.

Jeff: I just almost threw up seeing that hyperextension on Rondo’s elbow

Me: I missed it

Jeff: Oh man it like bent the way it should but backwards so sickening

Where was I? I was in the basement of my friend’s mom’s house drinking beer and waiting to go the local bar in my hometown.  We didn’t have the TV on because no one likes watching basketball.  I saw the footage after the fact.  How it looked like Wade might have swept Rondo down in the awkward position, but it was really just incidental contact. Then, how Rondo had to leave the court and how the initial rumors from the locker room were that his season might be over due to a dislocated elbow. I watched further as Rondo then came back to a roaring ovation from the crowd and proceeded to fuel the Celtics to a victory running around the court with his left arm looking like dead weight.  He managed to play with one hand and even came up with an amazing steal before swooping in for a patented, slinky Rondo layup. I scanned the crowd as I watched the replays and saw the Boston Garden crowd, which is already one of my favorite crowds in the NBA, going absolutely nuts each time Rondo did something. They exploded with ten times the force of a reaction to a Ray Allen three pointer and that is the single best crowd reaction in the NBA today. I got chills seeing Rondo walk back onto the court and as I watched, I focused on one fan who was just idly clapping as he noticed Rondo entering the game again. The fan pauses for a second and then immediately explodes as the excitement spreads to the rest of the crowd. Rondo was not Rondo for the rest of the game, but he tipped a ball away with his injured hand and put the effort out there and that stood as a symbol to the crowd and the team, that they weren’t going to let History be written without their say, not on that night.  Rondo and History intersected and it was a brief moment where History gleamed bright and apparent.

Basically, this is a literary way of saying that as a sports fan you feel a constant urge to be in front of the TV whenever there is a game on because you might miss that very direct line to seeing History directly. We can move about each day in our own mundane, yet mythically important ways, but its never easier, never more direct than when a great sporting moment arrives.  There are plenty of blowouts and no shows. There are teams that are simply overmatched no matter how much we want them to succeed as the underdog.  However, there are those rare days and nights, those special games where history crosses paths with a specific team or individual and it is loud and clear. History is in the hands of that player or that team and they can mold it. That’s why we sift through the everyday, for that chance to take History by the reins and write what we want. That’s why the sports fan never wants to leave the TV.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Theoharides on Spring, Captain America and Literature

It's Wednesday, my Puddlers, and I hope you are enjoying the terrific spring weather. I myself am looking forward to the summer, which means drinking insanely cold beer, going to the beach, being tan and generally seeming open for adventure—basically the idea of things being simpler that will ultimately fade by August after the accumulation of serial-killer heat and I'll look forward to "things beginning again" in September, much like Nick Carraway (soon to be played by Toby Maguire) once did.

But, we can't take these still cool May evenings for granted, especially with that serial killer heat looming in June. So please go out and enjoy the May evenings. Eat at a picnic table at a French restaurant, drink a Monte Carlo or some other rye drink that you've never had before and be sure to watch the trailer for the upcoming Puddles of Myself movie.

Also, since its Wednesday, you can read Alex Theoharides as he muses on spring, literature and comic book heroes.

Theoharides On Spring, Captain America, and Literature

Alex Theoharides

(channeling my inner Dick Vitale)

That’s right, it’s the trifecta baby!

Spring has finally come to Minneapolis and with the arrival of the magnolia blossoms and the hyacinths and the people waking from their winter doldrums, my fortitude to write has slipped, my words sucked away from me, replaced by my desire to sit on the benches by Lake Harriet, staring out at the sailboats as they float in endless circles around a golden buoy, getting nowhere.

All I want to do is sit on my bench, thinking of nothing, doing nothing, writing nothing.

“Nothing, you say?”

“Yes, this post will be about nothing.”

“Excellent, nothing sounds better than the something you usually bring.”

Indeed it does, which is why what I would like to do during my sojourn into nothingness is introduce you to a little game I play in my head on days like this. Namely, if you could be any super hero, who would you be and why. Except, I’ll replace you with famous writers. And instead of asking the writers for their own though, I’ll just assign them random slots and hope the alleged shoe (I swear it was a sock) fits.

Today, I’ll start with one hero, the Captain himself.

Mr. Steve Rogers was born a sickly child, who always wanted to be a hero, but was too weak to fight in WWII. Instead, he volunteered to take a secret serum, which turned him into the fighting machine known as Captain America, and along with Nick Fury and his trusty sidekick Bucky, he set about destroying the Axis powers. In the post war years, he was left for dead, frozen in ice, as the public’s desire for super heroes faded. Of course, we all know what happened next. Yes, school children, that’s right, it’s the Cold War. The Cap’n was promptly unfrozen, and he became one of the founding members of the greatest crime fighting, world-saving gang known to mankind—The Avengers.

With no further ado, I give you …

The Captain America Contenders

Rules: The writers must be American (#BIRTHERS!). They must have no supernatural tendencies (Including but not limited to: magical realism, fantasy, creationist myths, or general Poe-isms). They must have either fought in a war or written about war. They must be frank and honest, almost to the point of simplicity. Finally, they must look great in red, white and blue leotards!

3. Tim O’Brien. He’s close but not quite good enough to be given a shield by FDR made out of vibranium, an metal found only on the planet of Wakanda. (Yes, I stole the previous tidbit from Wikipedia. And yes, I’m aware this takes away the dork cred I was so hopeful to establish in this post.)  O’Brien’s most famous novel, The Things They Carried, is one of the best accounts of the Vietnam War, peaking with his description of the inner struggle he had over whether or not to dodge the draft. However, O’Brien’s other work, including the often lauded Going After Cacciato, falls flat for me. Plus, the Captain never would have even thought about dodging the draft.

2. Joseph Heller. Catch-22 is the greatest war book ever written by an American, and Goddammit, I don’t care what my old English Professor Dr. Boyers (#namedrop!) says, it’s a whole lot more fun to read then Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which I feel obliged to call the greatest war book ever written, period. However, unlike Heller’s masterpiece, Captain America is rarely funny. And, in many ways, he’s kind of an idiot. (But he’s our idiot.) Frankly, I like Heller too much to place him at the top of this group. It also would have helped if all his follow up attempts to Catch-22 hadn’t completely bombed. The Captain came back from the dead, better than ever. Joseph Heller? Not so much.

1. Ernest Hemingway. The journalist’s journalist. The guy’s guy. The earnest bastard who made me dream when I was a 16 year old with a pen and a moleskin notebook of travelling to Spain to cover the civil war and watch bull fights and sleep with the local women until I realized A) there’s no longer a civil war in Spain and hasn’t been for some time, B) Bull fights are really just about little men in funny hats throwing spears at pissed off bulls, and C) Spanish women would have about as much interest in sleeping with me as they would in sleeping with a blade of grass or a bullfrog. I’m no longer a Hemingway devote, although I do respect and admire his work, particularly his short stories and, in my opinion, his greatest novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. However, he fits the Captain America bill perfectly: A strong, powerful writer, who uses simple language to convey his belief in the deep-rooted goodness of man, and in the ability of love to conquer war. He never would have dodged the draft. For God’s sake, he sometimes fought just for the hell of it. And yes, he would look smashing in Captain America’s leotard.