Saturday, May 14, 2005

No Rick James?

I just read that not only is Dave Chappelle in a mental institution in South Africa but now reports say that the Chappelle Show may be no more.
That's depressing. It's a great show (just try not to laugh at an evil Wayne Brady or a black Ku Klux Klan member).
In the modern era of media, it is very rare that a show, film, book, or whatever comes along that is both smart and enjoyable. Usually it's one or the other.
I'm a huge fan of
Arrested Development, Robot Chicken, and (of course) The Simpsons. I've been lucky in that Robot Chicken is on Adult Swim (it won't be canceled), and the Simpsons is an international phenomenon (Groening says he wants to outlast Gunsmoke. That's thirty years). Usually, if I like a show, it's in trouble. Arrested Development may get canceled. Chappelle Show's future is uncertain. Boomtown? Forget it, no one watched it. The Critic? Too smart for its own good. Ever hear of Sledge Hammer? If you haven't, don't worry. Most people missed its two year run. Did you ever read Carter Beats the Devil? Fantastic book. Clive Owen was fantastic in Croupier, but few Americans saw the film.
I could keep going on and on about books no one read, shows no one watched, and films no one appreciated. Instead, I would love to hear about films, shows, or books you love and feel aren't appreciated. Tell
me what you think.
I hope that Dave Chappelle gets better soon and returns to work. With the present state of mind of the world, we need all the laughter we can muster.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Bar Screams

As I sat in a bar with my wife tonight, our good time was almost ruined by a guy sitting across from us on the other side. You see, next to my wife were two single women who were there alone. Obviously (by the way they clung to each other and never looked around) they were uncomfortable with the single men in the place. However Barry (and I know his names Barry, because he screamed it multiple times at them) decided that he did not care and would get there attention. He stood up, pointed at them, and screamed, "Woooooooooo! I love single women!" You want to guess how they took that? The two gals shrank even farther into their small bubble. However, that did not stop Barry. First, he attempted to jump over the bar into the center in order to walk over to them. He probably should have realized that when you get really drunk, you lose motor control. So instead of launching over the bar, he flopped into the bar (causing me to do a spit take and laugh so hard that I cried and peed a little). When that didn't work, Barry attempted to sing "Foxy Lady" in order to get their attention. Didn't work. It won't work when you can't remember the words and instead sing nonsensically. "Foxy lady....Uhn na ha manna." That's about what it sounded like. With no other recourse and with no real way to get around the bar, Barry went for one final ploy. He bought the ladies some drinks. This is the most cliched move a man can make in a bar. This is how Barry should have known he had NO chance: the ladies refused the drinks. His face when the bartender told him they did not take the drinks was priceless. A mixture of "Holy shit, I just wasted 12 dollars and have two more drinks to deal with," along with a, "But I'm 'hot' Barry" bewildered look. Ever watch Scrubs? Barry reminded me of "The Todd." (If you watch the show, you get it.) The whole chain of events made me laugh out loud (and I have a very loud laugh).
Barry was mad. Hopping mad. He pushed his way through the crowd around the bar and was obviously coming to talk to the ladies. I could hear them planning what to do (obviously they saw him coming). As he got to within twenty feet, they both stood up and disappeared into the crowd toward the bathroom. Here's the thing about women in bars. Men have to push and shove their way through the crowds. Women glide. They have this ability to move quicjly through the crowd. Barry had no chance. Seeing that they were gone, Barry made one final mistake. As I ordered another drink for myself and my wife, Barry slid into the stool next to my lovely bride and attempted to hit on her. At first I thought it was awesome. My wife is good looking enough to be solicited for love. It was sweet. Unfortunately it was misguided. Still, I didn't need to kick his ass, because my wife was able to verbally crush him without my help. I just sat back and watched the master work the puppet strings. I'm telling you, it was awe-inspiring and frightening at the same time. A coy smile, a few pleasantries, and then the quick strike of, "no, I'm married," with a flash of the ring. I thought Barry was going to cry.

Not long after the indecent proposal, my wife and I left the bar and headed home. Riding home, my wife turned to me and said, "you were never like that. That's why I love you." Let that be a lesson to you men. Remember K.I.S.S? That's right Keep It Simple, Stupid. If you go overboard and act like an idiot, then it's a lonely ride home. Take it from me, I'm happily married.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A Conversation with My Cat

I usually get up at six every morning. This is because I need time to get ready and then drive the 20-30 minutes to St. Paul for work. This morning, however, one of my cats decided to wake me up earlier for a conversation. Usually they are pretty good, but this morning Oscar decided we needed to talk. So, at five, as I was sound asleep, he decided to use his claws on my neck to wake me up.
As I grabbed my neck thinking something was wrong, I discovered my furry friend sitting on my pillow. I rolled over and looked at the clock and was shocked at the time. Tired and groggy, I attempted to go back to searching for
Kubla Khan. Oscar had other ideas. He decided we needed to talk about politics, life, and kitty litter. I did not want my wife to wake up, so I got up and walked down to the bathroom. It was there we conversed.
Me: Ok, I'm up. What do you want?
Oscar: First of all, can you turn on the sink? I'm thirsty.
I turned on the water.
Me: There you go. Now, why am I up so early?
Oscar: Thanks for the water. Anyway, what do you think about the geopolitics of Indonesia post tsunami?
Me: Umm, I don't know. Perhaps they can rebuild with help?
Oscar: I don't think so. Sometimes you're sooo stupid. How do you remember to feed me?
Me: I think it's too early to discuss this.
Oscar: Ok, ok. How about kids? Do you think you're going to have kids?
Me: Maybe. Why are you so interested?
Oscar: Cause I want to eat 'em.
Me: What?! That's horrible!
Oscar: Haha. Got you. I'm just kidding.
Me: I cannot believe I'm talking about this with my cat. Sigh.
This conversation continued for ten minutes until I realized two things. One: I was having a conversation with my cat that made sense, and I was neither high nor drunk. The second problem was that the entire time we were talking, there was a crocodile swimming in my toilet. At this point I realized that I was still asleep. I opened my eyes, and I was, indeed, still in bed. However, Oscar was scratching at my neck, and he was meowing at me. With a sense of deja vu, I got up and went downstairs to feed the cats.
I am still waiting for these cats to come forward and tell me their plans for world domination. They are just that evil at times. Still, I love them. They are a great source of entertainment.

WWFT (What Would Freud Think?)

"Sometimes," Sigmund Freud said, "a cigar is just a cigar." We all know what this means. Sometimes instead of a deeper symbolic meaning, it is what it is. When it comes to film and literature, many writers and directors do in fact put in a deeper meaning to a scene. Have you ever seen Citizen Kane? As Kane and his wife eat dinner, and time progresses, the viewer sees the two separated by a longer and longer table. This idea is to symbolize the love leaving their marriage as they are growing farther apart. That was probably intentional. The same can be said in literature as well. Sometimes an author purposely puts in a symbol to mean something. Look at George Orwell's Animal Farm. It was (and is) no secret that Orwell was using the characters in the story as an allegory for Stalin's Soviet Union.
Still, as Freud said, sometimes we have to take it at face value. Sometimes we read into aspects of film, or literature, or dreams, or even life that mean nothing. A student of mine talked to me about a dream she had. She was sitting at her desk at school working on homework. That's all she did in the dream. "What does it mean?" she asked me. This one is pretty simple. "You were doing homework before bed, weren't you?" I asked. "Yes, I was." she replied. "Case solved. You had homework on the brain." Now this one is pretty easy, but there are others that maybe go a little too far. Hell, I'm even guilty of that. When I was in college, I wrote a paper about Scooby-Doo. That's right, good old Mystery Inc. I wrote about how Scooby and Shaggy were Heroin addicts. I put it this way:
1. Scooby and Shaggy would only go down the tunnel for a Scooby snack. Scooby snacks were essentially "fixes".
2. Whenever Scooby has a Scooby snack, he has the ability to float after he eats it. Perhaps he just feels like he's floating.
3. He and Shaggy always see the monsters first. Maybe there is no monster, and it's a side effect.
You get the idea. Now I don't think that Hanna and Barbera had this in mind when they created the show. It was not about drugs (even though it was 1969) but rather about a talking dog that solves mysteries with his friends. I read too much into the subtext (and got an A-, because my teacher said I was ruining one of her favorite cartoons). I bring this up, because I read an article the other day where a
critic accused George Lucas of being "Anti-Bush" and using Star Wars as a diatribe. So here's the thing: I have been in a few film study classes. Sometimes we shouldn't read too deep into films. For example: (I'll use Star Wars again) At the end of the first Star Wars (and I mean the 1977 film) Luke flies through the canyon and fires a missile into the Death Star. Now, a critic and scholar (whose name I have forgotten) said that the destruction of the Death Star via the Luke's run was in fact about rape and Lucas' feelings about rape. Huh? I never got that idea. I really don't think that's what Lucas had in mind when he shot that. I think it was just about blowing something up. So when I read that this critic thinks that Lucas is making a diatribe that is ant-Bush, I, once again, felt that someone was reading something that was not there. It's like the Disney cartoons. Do you really think that the writers and Disney animators really were trying to make a statement about being a homosexual with The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Yes, of course it can be construed that way. Just like everything can be construed a certain way if enough is applied to it. Thus the song "Kiss the Girl" from the Little Mermaid is really about rape as well, because the little crab says, "You know you want to, so just kiss the girl." I really don't think that's what they had in mind.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe everything in life really has a meaning, and nothing can be just taken at face value. The problem is that if we read into everything then we lose the ability to trust what is being said to one another. Maybe that comment I made really was a hidden insult? Maybe when someone says, "I love you," it really means, "I love you this much, but I would love you more if you did this for me." I would like think that Freud was right. Sometimes we say something or see something, and it just is what it is. No more, no less.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

(Not Really) Feeling Minnesota [Part V: The Future]

I figured I would add one or two last tidbits to this series. Especially after some of the comments I heard yesterday from co-workers (Minnesotans all of them), and some opinions I heard on the radio. At the same time, someone asked me about my future here in Minnesota. So, I figured that the only way to conclude this three part series in five parts (thanks Douglas Adams!) is by finishing with a Springer-like final thought:
I want to make it clear to anyone that reads this that there is more that I like about Minnesota than I dislike. Higher education standards, cleaner environment, no taxes on the essentials. It's unfortunate that the aspects of Minnesota that bother me mostly stem from its population. Over the course of 24 hours, I have heard more anger about people who are not from the Land of 10,000 Lakes. While Minnesotans are tolerant of foreigners (this can be seen by that fact that Minnesota was one of the first states willing to take in the Hmong population who had been displaced after the Vietnam War), many of the residents truly feel that the borders of Minnesota need to be closed on all sides. Recently, a cop was shot and killed by two men from Illinois. Beyond the grief, many Minnesota pundits and residents responded by saying that only those people related to someone born in Minnesota or from Minnesota should be allowed to live here. Think about that for a minute. If your family ain't from here, stay out. One person on a popular radio show went as far as saying that we need our own version of the Minutemen. What? We should have Minnesotans stand on the border and shoot anyone who tries to get in without the proper credentials? That's insane. That's the biggest problem. Minnesotans are like a giant WASP family: Don't show your emotions and keep to your own.
Still, this state and its residents are much better than some of the other options out there. So, what will my wife and I do? Well, the plan is to move in the next few years (five or six probably) to the East Coast. Surprisingly, it was my wife's idea, not mine. She loves the Northeast. I think its great. It's now rare that people stay in the same place for long periods of time. When we moved here, it was the right decision. When the time comes to move again, I will miss Minnesota. I've made some generalizations about the population as a whole, and to be fair not everyone uses "Minnesota Nice" as a weapon. But, as a whole, a large amount of the population around the Twin Cities that are originally from here do not like those of us who have moved here. It's unfortunate, because you never know what kind of person you're passing up.

Monday, May 09, 2005

(Not Really) Feeling Minnesota [Part III & IV: The Bad & The Ugly]

Well, we've hit the good aspects of the lovely Land of 10,000 Lakes (but who's counting?), but nothing is ever perfect, right? So, after five years of living in Minnesota, what aspects of this place annoy me? Well, there are many things. Buckle up, because it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Let's start with the most obvious problem with this state: the cold winters and snow. Look, if you go back and look at the Minnesota calendar of weather, you would see that it is possible that we could have nine months where it snowed. It even snowed in May. IN MAY!!! As in Spring. At one point last December we had a day that was -40 degrees (F) with wind chill. This begs the first question: how can it be colder than zero? (I'm being sarcastic. Please don't try to answer this question.) I don't mind cold and snow. I love it, but there comes a point when months of seeing nothing but white and dead trees begins to take its toll. I'm surprised that the suicide rate here in Minnesota isn't higher. I mean this place is a lot like Scandanavia (hence why so many of them immigrated here). There are towns that only exist in the winter months, because the lakes freeze over and everyone can move back. That's just not right.
Granted, they do take care of the roads here. However, as a teacher, I sure would like a snow day at some point. I mean the last day off that students had was when former governor Jesse "the Mind" Ventura (I'm not even touching that one) told everyone to stay home, because it was like -60 degrees (F) with wind chill. It was unsafe for children to go outside. The way this weather is defended is with people saying it makes you live longer and makes you healthier. Sure, sure. Did you know not eating lava will help you live longer? It's the same principle. But I digress.
Ok, so some people like the nine months of snow. They say, "Leab, get over it. It's great. We can use our Arctic Cats, ski, whatever." Fine. Like I said, I don't mind the cold and snow. It just gets depressingly gray sometimes. But there are other aspects of the state that are even more frustrating. Let's talk about the people of Minnesota and one of their customs: Minnesota Nice.
First of all, Minnesotans are cliquey (Remember, they call me a transplant). That's right, they travel in cliques. If you aren't from here, it is very hard to break into the clique. When I first moved here in 2000, I went to work with a bunch of Minnesotans. I was the only one in the office not from the state. When I was asked, "where did you go to school?" I did not realize that they meant high school. I thought it meant college. As soon as they knew I wasn't from here, that was it for me. I was pretty much shunned. All because I wasn't from here.
At this point, you're probably thinking, "Leab, that happens everywhere." Au contraire, mon ami. You go to Missouri, also a midwestern state, and you can strike up conversations with people in stores without out getting funny looks or ignored. When I went to my reunion, I ended up talking to people I didn't know and loving it. It's hard to do that here because of the Minnesotan way.
"But," you're probably thinking,"What about this 'Minnesota Nice' I keep hearing about?" Well, that's a code. You see Minnesota Nice is thought to be where the people are so nice no matter what. Here's what it really is: a smile at your face and a knife in your back. I'm from the East Coast, and I have no problem speaking my mind. If I don't like your sweater, I'll tell you if you ask me. You want my opinion? Fine, but I won't sugar coat. Minnesotans, however, cannot do that. Instead of just saying how they feel, they turn it back to you. "Ooohh, I don't knooow. How do you feel?" Oy! Look, it's basically a passive-aggressive behavior. Think of the following as an example:
Person A and Person B work together. Person A opens the window, because he is really warm. B is annoyed. Instead of telling A, she instead goes to A's desk and says:
"Hey A. Do you really think that the window needs to be opened?"
Notice the passive-agressiveness of the question? If A says yes it does, then he seems rude, but if he says no, then the question becomes why did he open the window in the first place? Either way, A looks bad.
This is really what Minnesota Nice is. Instead of just putting forward an opinion, they used their "politeness" (as they call it) to make you rethink your position. It's really annoying.
Minnesotan personality reaches across many aspects of life here, even the language. I had never, EVER, heard, "oh for cute" (that's so cute), "ish" (that's disgusting), or (and this is the WORST) "Borrow me $10." This last one is an affront to the English language. If someone said to me "Borrow me ____," my first thought would be that they want me to borrow the item from someone else for them. Nope. Sorry Ken Jennings, that's wrong. They mean can you lend (AND THE PROPER TERM IS LEND) them the item.
You want more? Ok. Driving in the great state of Minnesota is like getting on the Air Tram at Newark Airport. Everyone pushes and shoves to get on, there's no room. Inevitably someone screws it up for everyone else by having a foot or a bag in the door. So, in order to save time, here's the checklist of problems:
1. No one can merge. Granted you were all screwed by ramp meters, but again, that passive-aggressive nature comes out when you drive. A person gets on a ramp doing 60. As he or she tries to merge, a person already on the highway speeds up to go the same speed. As the merging person speeds up, so does the other person, who is intent on not having a car in front of them. The merging person slows down, so the other person slows down. The merger is left with no choice: Hit the brakes hard, swing in, and pray. It sucks. Most accidents happen in the merge lane.
2. No one understands which lanes to drive in. The right lane is the slow lane, the left lane is the passing lane. For the love of Mike, don't go 40 (40!) in the passing lane.
3. Rubberneckers galore! Holy hell. I was on 94 a few days ago and there was an accident in the left lane. People slowed to 10 miles per hour and stared at the people on the side of the road. You watch and it's almost as if they are hoping it's someone they know so they can gossip. I have seen people stop to talk to people they know. They offer no help, just stop and say, "hey neighbor." It's rude, and it's dangerous. Just keep going!
4. Road Rage. When a Minnesotan gets in his or her car, the fascade drops and the anger wells up inside. This is why merging is impossible. I belive that if they could, Minnesotans would mount machine guns on their cars and blow each other away.
I'll leave you with this. There's a game that children in Minnesota play. It's called Duck, Duck, Grey Duck. Kids sit in a circle, and one kid goes around the circle saying, "duck," until he or she wants a kid to be it, so he or she says, "grey duck," and has to run around the circle and get that persons space. Sound familiar? That's because everywhere else in the world calls it Duck, Duck, Goose. See the rest of the world figured out that the grey duck is really called a goose.
Before you send me one of those stupid comments like, "if you hate it so much, why don't you just move idiot," realize that I do like it here. It's (somewhat) affordable and Spring and Fall are gorgeous. I do plan on one day moving (my wife reallllly wants to East, and she's a midwesterner), but not for a while.
If you're Minnesotan, and you're offended while reading this, get over it. Pretend you aren't using your powers of Minnesota Nice. You like to pick on Packer fans and people who aren't from here, so get as good as you give.
See you in the snow....