Fun Share: Short Animation Film “A New Machine”

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A New Machine from Tony Clavelli on Vimeo.

Today is almost like a guest post, as I’m sharing the animated short film “A New Machine” made by my friend Tony Clavelli. By day, Tony teaches English here in Korea, and by night…or maybe evening…mid-afternoon perhaps, if classes end early…he makes short animations in his apartment. I have no idea how he does it; I personally decided not to go into stop motion animation after, as a child, I could not produce a proper Play-doh hamburger.

This newest work is about 12 minutes long. It’s about a poor family that lives by the sea, and what happens when the daughter disrupts the order of things, inventing a machine that can do the work her family has traditionally done by hand. It’s lyrical, odd, and worth a look.

So that’s all. Take a look at the film, and it would be extremely cool to leave a ‘like’ or a comment if you enjoyed it. Also, I should point out, Tony C is on my blog roll, and you can click on his name and watch his other animated shorts too.

Cheers!

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Fun Share: Street Boxing in Seoul

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Today’s fun share comes from Bucheon.  It’s a video of a US Military guy street boxing a Korean dude.  It irritates me quite a bit, for reasons I will briefly explain later.  First off, here’s the fight:

Okay, that was fun, right?  Let’s do a quick recap: Basically, for a minute and a half, the US Military guy bombards the Korean dude with punches, missing most of them and landing a few but not doing much damage.  The Korean guy offers little to no offense at all, running away, ducking, and dodging the military guy.  You can almost sense the growing frustration on the part of the military guy as the Korean dude keeps running off.

Then something surprising happens.  The Korean guy taunts his opponent by offering his chin, and follows the taunt with a quick left jab to the military guy’s face, knocking him down.  The fight is over.  The military guy wobbles back onto his feet with help of his friends and the crowd cheers the winner.

So…I don’t know…this victory leaves me cold.  For all intents and purposes, I should really appreciate what the Korean guy has done.  He has won due to his smarts, skills, and patience.  That said, I don’t feel it’s much of a win. It’s less convincing than that guy beating Pacquiao last week.  To run away like a scared little kid and then dupe the guy into falling for a sucker punch…that’s not how I’d want to win a boxing match.  If I ever fought in a boxing match, that is.  I’m kind of skinny and lack muscles. I think I would get myself killed if I tried, unless I fought a teenage girl or the house elf from Harry Potter.

I think I could take this guy.

I’ve heard that this Korean guy is actually some sort of professional fighter and that he street boxes for fun and usually doesn’t hit back because he’s not out to hurt anyone.  I don’t know if that’s true; if it is, then I take everything back.  If you’re a real, trained fighter, than I’m sorry, Korean dude.  Don’t hurt me!

Otherwise, it’s whack.  There are ethics to fighting, and I don’t see them on display here.  No, it’s not about winning pretty, and I understand that simply winning is the most important thing.  Still, the way you win IS important. Maybe the lesson to the youth is that there’s a great sense of satisfaction in earning a victory.  You feel good about yourself by winning the right way, you don’t leave any doubt in people’s minds, and, most importantly, no skinny wimp ends up criticizing you in a blog.

(Quick shout out to Rayner and Shanell for posting the video.)

(Note on Accuracy: I have been made aware, via my girlfriend, that Bucheon is actually not in Seoul, but in Gyeonggi Province, between Seoul and Incheon.  I suppose I should, therefore, change the title to “Street Boxing in Gyeonggi Province…but that’s not too catchy.)

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A Cultural and Historical Examination of the Cough Drop

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Sometime around 1872, the Smith Brothers made one of the great decisions in marketing history.  About twenty years earlier, a street vendor named Sly Hawkins wandered into a restaurant owned by James Smith (father of the brothers) located in Poughkeepsie, New York.  Hawkins was broke, hungry, and clever; in order to get himself fed, he offered Smith his recipe for what he called “cough candy.”  Smith accepted, started making his own “cough candy,” and when his sons, William and Andrew, were fully grown, they began producing more of it and marketing it more aggressively to the public.  With sales rising, a decision was made to sack the word “candy” from the name of the product.  The Smith Brothers replaced it with the word “drop,” and with that decision, the very first box of “cough drops” was sold.

Meanwhile, across the pond in Great Britain, a new company began, starting around 1893 and selling jams, caramels, and something that was apparently popular at the time called a “humbug.”  The company was called HALLS, named after another set of brothers.  The HALLS Company continued doing business, likely aware of the Smith Brothers’ new advent of a menthol cough drop in 1922.  It’s difficult to say how aware the HALLS brothers were of this, but in the 1930s they invented their own recipe for cough drops, using a combination of menthol and eucalyptus, and began marketing them.  The Smith Brothers continued on, selling their company in 1963.  Nine years later, their line of cough drops came to an end.  As it did, HALLS Cough Drops, which were introduced to the US in the 1950s, proved to be extremely popular.  The company had a hit on their hands.  By the 1990s, HALLS cough drops were being sold all around the world.

Interestingly, though, they were not marketed the same way from country to country.  Personally, I can distinctly remember the HALLS commercials that played on American television in the 1980s.  I remember the phrase “the HALLS of medicine” and the ad where the camera drifts through what appears to be a cave made entirely of cough drops.  The commercial states, in a very serious tone, that, “HALLS are REAL medicine.”  And that’s how my perception of the product was shaped, I guess.  I’ve always thought, subsequently, of HALLS as a medicinal product, one used to treat a cough just as Vicks Vapor Rub is meant to treat chest congestion or Tinactin is meant to treat athlete’s foot in a tough actin’ way.

However, in many parts of the world, this “REAL medicine” tagline has never existed.  Throughout Asia, HALLS is marketed and viewed as straight up candy.  Thus, I’ve been thrown for a loop several times by Korean people, usually students, and how they react when I pop a HALLS in my mouth to treat a sore throat.

“Yum!” they’ll say.  “Can I have a candy?”

“Candy?” I’ll snap back.  “This is medicine.”

“What?  That’s candy!”

Then I’ll point out that at my school in the US, where I taught for several years, it was forbidden for a teacher to give a student a HALLS cough drop, as it was hammered into our heads that teachers could not under any circumstance give a child any form of medication (it could result in death).  I’d also explain that I could not in fact give away a precious cough drop; it was for my health, and it wouldn’t be right for somebody else to take the cough drop just for personal pleasure.

“But that isn’t medicine,” I heard over and over again, from younger and older people.  “It’s delicious candy…I love the taste of it.”

I was so confused by this, the idea that HALLS is candy and not medicine, that I started researching it on the Internet.  According to Wikipedia, “In some parts of the world, including Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and the Philippines, Halls is advertised as a mentholated hard candy and is not recognized as a medicine for coughs. In the UK, Halls Extra Strong has recently dropped all mention of an active ingredient (or of coughs) from the packaging, which now describes the contents as ‘Extra Strong Original flavour hard boiled sweets.’”

How, I wonder, does HALLS stay afloat if it’s nothing more than a candy?  It tastes medicinal to me; who in their right mind would, if desiring some candy, choose HALLS over a Snickers bar or peanut butter cup?  As a medicine, HALLS has basically no competition.  As candy, it’s David against an army of Goliaths.   HALLS vs. Gummi Bears?  I’m going with the gelatinous mammals.  HALLS vs. Twizzlers?  No contest.  HALLS vs. a Tootsie Roll?  That one’s close.  Depends on if they have the excellent “blue” flavor of HALLS.  If not, I’ll be more enthusiastic about a Tootsie Roll than the 69 Boyz were.

Putting more thought into this, I began to ponder the grey area between candy and medicine.  Gum, for instance, is sometimes marketed as a product that enhances one’s breath and is good for oral hygiene.  Yet, I can’t view gum as a health product.  True, the intent is there; I feel there is a wider gap between gum and mouthwash than HALLS and, say, a jolly rancher.  What about Flintstone Vitamins?  Those are technically a health product but, when I was a kid, if they didn’t have a child protective cap on them, you bet I would’ve tried to eat a whole bottle.  They were delicious.  I could’ve been the first child to ever overdose on them.  Could you imagine how humiliated my parents would’ve been?  It would be hard to admit that their child OD’ed on Flintstones chewables, as opposed to something cool like heroin.  Even worse, with my loss, the company would have to change the jingle to say, “We are Flintstone kids, 9,999,999 strong and growing.”

That’s just not as catchy.

There’s a reason the Smith Brothers decided to drop (pardon the pun) the ‘candy’ and changed it to ‘drop.’  What was that reason?  Was it because their product was medicine, or because they wanted to segregate it away from all the other candy products around?  For over 25 years of my life, I’ve viewed the cough drop as medicinal and now I think that’s because of advertising.  I feel like a sap but, at the same time, I’m still absolutely convinced it really is medicine.  What can I say?  In our world full of marketing and commercials, I suppose there really is but a minute difference between a Health Bar and a Heath Bar.

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If it’s Not the Bomb, Then it’s Love That Will Bring Us Together

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Nothing brings people together quite like music does.  Except, maybe, war.  It’s a close call.  Tough to say, with much certainty, whether people are more unified in times of war or in the chorus of “Sweet Caroline.”  I suppose that war is going to have to win here, although Neil Diamond isn’t too far behind.  Then again, I don’t know exactly how unified America has been throughout its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I do know, however, that I went to a Danzig concert a couple years ago, and the whole place sang “Mother” in perfect harmony.  I’m not sure I’m making much of a point there.  I suppose what I’m trying to say is that war and music both bring people together, and I like Danzig.

Speaking of music and the Iraq war, I remember watching a documentary and in one part the troops talked about the songs they would listen to before going into combat.  Some favorites were “Bodies” by Drowning Pool and “The Roof is on Fire” by Bloodhound Gang.  That made sense to me.  Those seem like good pump up songs.  The first one is heavy and fast, and the second one has lots of cursing in it.  If I were to go into battle, or out on a date, or perhaps if I had to give a kitten a vitamin, those are the kind of songs I’d want to hear beforehand.

I bring this up because I’m terribly concerned about South Korea and the severe lack of pump up music here.  Seriously, what if a war with the North begins tomorrow?  I feel the lack of pump up music could indirectly lead to a crushing defeat.  Have you heard the music they listen to here?  I’m picturing soldiers strapping belts of ammunition across their chests while blasting Kpop.  Or driving in tanks, off to battle, listening to Super Junior.  They might as well surrender the moment the war starts and offer Kim Jong Un a big bowl of rice and a bulgogi burger, because hopefully that’d influence him to be a nicer president in the future.  I can’t imagine anyone would be ready for serious combat with only groups like 2 PM, Wonder Girls, and SHINee to create the proper state of mind.  Don’t believe that this could be a potentially serious problem?  Apparently you haven’t heard SHINee.

Being a lover of rock music, life in Korea can be hard.  There isn’t a lot of guitar driven stuff around.  I’ve gone to two “rock festivals” since I’ve been here: the first one (The First Annual Dajeon Rock Fest) was stopped early by the police because of noise complaints from the neighbors (making it The Last Annual Dajeon Rock Festival), and the second one featured lots of Korean bands who reminded me of mid-tempo Matchbox 20.  I also went to a Kpop festival where Rain and 4minute performed, and by “performed,” I mean they ran around the stage lip-synching while the crowd sat down and waved glow sticks.  It was about as far a cry from Danzig as one could possibly get.  In March of 2011, I shelled out $100 to see Iron Maiden and almost cried with happiness the second I heard the riff from “2 Minutes to Midnight.”  If only for a moment, it helped me block out the incredible shame I harbor for knowing more than one SHINee song.

That Iron Maiden show was the last concert I‘d gone to in a long time, and so it was with great excitement that I learned Morrissey would be coming here in early May.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Morrissey?  Yes, Morrissey.  I’m a fan.  Shut it.  Anyways, I yet again shelled out $100, and cranked “You’re the One for Me, Fatty,” to really amp myself up.

“Morrissey in Korea?” one of my friends said.  “What Koreans are going to go to see Morrissey?  I can’t imagine many.  It’s gonna be all foreigners.”

Bruce wants YOU to stand up!

This had occurred to me as well.  I had recently completed a textbook unit at school called “Appreciate the Arts” that dealt with concerts, and every single one of my students said they did NOT want to go to a concert because “it is so loud.”  Likewise, I didn’t recall many Koreans at the Iron Maiden show, and the ones that were there got yelled at by Bruce Dickinson for sitting down (it’s true).

I asked my girlfriend if she wanted to see Morrissey with me.  “No,” she shot back quickly.  “You go.”

“Do you want to hear a few songs first?  Maybe make your decision off of that?”

She didn’t say anything.  The look she gave me told me it wouldn’t be necessary.

I was excited, anyways.  And so I went to the Morrissey show by myself, happy and delirious.  Three songs in, during the first verse of “Every Day is like Sunday,” I literally teared up, overcome with the emotion of hearing rock music again.  It reminded me of home and I jumped up and down with the little Indian dude standing next to me and we belted out the chorus together.

Then I got to thinking about rushing the stage.  When I saw Morrissey play in America, a whole bunch of fans jumped on the stage and tried to touch him.  They were all quickly tackled by security like they were trying to attack Monica Seles and then dragged away.  The funny thing was, Morrissey didn’t seem to mind; he even said to the security guards, multiple times, “It’s not a big deal.”  The security guards responded by glaring into the audience with hatred.

“What if I ran up on stage here, in Korea?” I thought.  I didn’t have any interest in touching Morrissey, but I thought it would be a hell of a story.  I looked at the security guards.  There were only two.  They were dressed in suits and looked, well, grandfatherly.  I could easily get by them if I wanted to.

Around this time, the Korean girl standing in front of me shouted something to the security guard and he left.  Yes, he left.  “What the hell?” I thought.  “This is my perfect opportunity to touch Morrissey…in a non-gay kind of way.”  Then the paranoid side of me kicked in.  What would happen to me after I got taken off stage?  Perhaps the Koreans wouldn’t understand.  It seemed, after all, like they were trusting me NOT to do something like that.  They’d be furious.  I’d get sent home.  I’d have to face everybody with tons of embarrassment.

“Why are you back so early?  Did you miss us?”

“No, not that,” I’d say.  “I got deported.  It’s all Morrissey’s fault.”

The security guard returned to his post with a cup of water.  He handed it to the Korean girl in front of me.  The little Indian guy asked her how she got it.  “I asked him for water,” she said.

“That’s cool,” I thought.  I looked around me and saw that there were a lot more Korean people than I’d imagined there would be, and that they were all singing along to the songs too.  There was no need to cause any tension.  It’s all about love, man.  Togetherness.  I turned my attention back to the stage and kept singing, along with hundreds of other voices that all seemed to be coming from the same place.

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On Certain Nights We’re Almost There, Mr. Kerouac

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The Real Brian Holman didn’t last very long, and neither did Jack Kerouac.  An injury cut Holman’s career as a pitcher for the Seattle Mariners short; Kerouac died at 47.  When I was a kid, I used to dream about pitching in the big leagues like Brian Holman, and then when I went to college, I dreamed that I would be a writer and a beatnik like Jack Kerouac.  I’ve had limited success on both of these accounts.  My baseball career came to a close in 1992, one season into the Pony League for boys 14-17 years old.  I didn’t pitch an inning that year and I had exactly zero hits.  In my last at bat ever, I was hit in the head.

So, in some respects, I’ve come closer to actualizing the Kerouac persona.  I’ve published some stories and poems and I write a blog.  I have lots of disks with writing on them, including a novel that’s unreadable and will never get published.  I smoke a lot of cigarettes and I bounce around different places in the world.  Last night I drank by myself and listened to Bert Kaempfert’s Orchestra play “Wonderland By Night.”  In that moment, between sips of beer and after the horn made that weird crescendo that opens “Wonderland,” well, that’s when the guy I want to be seemed real and present.  I was an artist then, a hip bastard drinking and smoking in a strange little corner of South Korea, jotting down ideas for novels and acing the heck out of Sporcle quizzes on black and white movies.

Of course, when I woke up, it was back to the real me.  I’m not an artist.  I’m a teacher.  I guess I can live with that.  As I opened the window to try to get the smell of smoke out of my room, sweeping up the ash and the gum wrappers from the floor, I didn’t feel hip anymore.  I felt tired and lonely and old.  Maybe later in the week I’d glance at the stuff I wrote down.  Maybe I wouldn’t.  I’d have too many classes to teach, and too much baseball to watch.

*

Back in college, I thought I could define myself very neatly.  I’d gone to film school and then when they kicked me out I went to an arts college to study writing.  I drank like a fish and read everything I could get my hands on.  Furthermore, I had a ponytail.  Oh, and I dressed in all black.  In my own head, I couldn’t have been cooler.  I’d met Elvis Costello and my poetry professor was Hettie Jones, who was a poet from the actual Beat Generation and hung out with Ginnsberg and Kerouac.  I had my self-image pretty much developed.  True, I hadn’t published anything and nobody else thought I was cool, but those were mere details.  Success and recognition were things that were supposed to happen after college.

There was one thing that didn’t fit in with the rest of the role I was playing, though, a part of my persona that stuck out like a sore pinkie finger (I would’ve said ‘thumb,’ but that’s clichéd).  It was only beginning to blossom then, and in the next decade it would grow out of control, like my anxiety when I try to talk to pretty girls or police officers.

I’m referring to my obsession with baseball and, more specifically, fantasy baseball.  Currently, I spend at least 5 hours a day watching baseball, reading articles about baseball, or listening to baseball podcasts.  Every night I wake up at 2 in the morning so I can watch the afternoon games in the US (I go back to sleep at 5 and then wake up again at 9 so I can watch the night games).  Last week, I made love to my girlfriend and then literally rolled off her and immediately turned on the Tampa Bay/Boston game.  I was dying to see Matt Moore’s first start of the season.  After seeing the expression on my girl’s face, I knew I had to turn the game off, although, for a moment, I considered choosing the rookie lefty over her.

Being a complete baseball nerd has been my hidden source of shame for years.  That’s why I was ecstatic a few years ago when The NY Times published an article saying that Jack Kerouac, Sal Paradise himself, also had an obsession with fantasy baseball.  My heart leapt.  It turns out Kerouac used to have his own make believe baseball league.  He created teams and filled their rosters with made up players.  For their games, he simulated everything by hitting a marble with a toothpick.  Yes, that’s right, cooler-than-thou Jack Kerouac spent untold amounts of time whacking a marble with a toothpick and writing down what happened.  When he got older, he ditched the marble in favor of a card game he invented.  All this he did in secrecy.  He wrote articles about his baseball league as if it was real, talking about player performance and even inventing contract disputes.  He never told Ginnsberg or Ferlinghetti or Corso about any of this and it only came to light about fifty years after his death.

Scorecards from Kerouac's fantasy league.

Perhaps the reason why I found this so exciting is because I used to do almost the exact same thing myself when I was a kid.  I had my own make believe baseball league too.  I created a system using dice to simulate the games.  Instead of making up players, I used my baseball cards.  At the start of the season, I had a draft, managing all the teams myself, where I took players using whatever Tops, Score, or Upper Deck cards I happened to own.  Once the teams were set, they started playing.  I had a notebook where I’d jot down the results and keep the standings.  I never told a soul about it, just like Kerouac.  It was my own special league, and only I knew about it.

My baseball card league would eventually lead to other things, like my eventual fascination with baseball statistics and fantasy baseball.  It also led to a memorable night almost 25 years ago, when my illusions grew up and I realized that so much of life, as funny and fickle as it is, revolves around the slender discord between fantasy and reality.

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In 1989, the Seattle Mariners traded their ace pitcher, Mark Langston, to the Montreal Expos for two young pitching prospects.  One of them was named Brian Holman.  The other was named Randy Johnson.  This trade is well known because it brought Johnson to the Mariners, where he would become one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history.  Holman’s career didn’t pan out that way.  He pitched two seasons and retired in 1991.

To me, Brian Holman was much more important than that.  In my make believe league, Holman had somehow become the best pitcher in all of baseball.  I had a Holman baseball card – a 1989 Donruss card from when Holman was with the Expos.  There’s really no way to mirror reality when one is running a league where the results are based on the numbers on some dice.  Dice don’t know that Jose Canseco is supposed to be better than Billy Ripkin, or that Mark Langston is supposed to be better than Brian Holman.  By coincidence, or due to dumb luck, the dice just really loved Brian Holman.  Any time I had him pitch, he would blow away his opposition.  He was, by a good margin, the best pitcher in the little world that existed in my bedroom.  I would get excited when Holman’s turn in the rotation came around, and time after the time the dice proved that Holman was a star.

Then, on April 20th, 1990, something coincidental happened.  I was 11 years old at the time.  It was a Friday night, and I was up later than I was usually allowed to be.  I was in my bedroom when my father came and got me.

“Come out here!” he said, full of energy.  “Some guy’s throwing a perfect game!”

It was the 8th inning of a game between the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners.  The pitcher for the Mariners had not allowed a single hit or walk.  He had retired all 21 batters he’d faced.  At that point in time, there were only 14 perfect games in the history of Major League Baseball.  The Mariner pitcher was trying to become the 15th person since baseball began around 1869 to do this, to retire all 27 batters he faced in perfect order.  Who was the pitcher?  It was none other than the Real Brian Holman.

In stark contrast to my bedroom league, Holman was, in reality, a nobody.  He was unknown, a talented kid who was trying to make a name for himself.  I personally had never seen him outside of the picture on that baseball card.

Holman cruised through the 8th.  “Jesus,” my father said, pacing around the room nervously, “he might do it!”  To begin the 9th inning, Holman struck out pinch hitter Felix Jose.  Walt Weiss was next and Holman got him to ground out to second.

It was at that time that my mind started going.  Could it be that fantasy and reality sometimes cross paths?  It was as though my league had augured this; had somehow predicted that it would happen.  Maybe Brian Holman really would become a super star.  Maybe it was all possible, all of it.  Maybe I could saturate my world with dreams, like I was building something, and it would look just like I’d seen it before.  Like I’d made it myself.

All the Real Brian Holman needed was one more out.  In all my years of being a sports fan, I’ve never wanted anything more than for Holman to do it.  The A’s sent up Ken Phelps to pinch hit.  Phelps was an aging left handed power bat, someone who had been around a long time.  Holman wound up and threw a fastball.  Phelps hammered it, launching it deep into right field.  To this day, I can still picture the trajectory of the ball off Phelps’ bat.  The right fielder didn’t even move.  The ball was gone.  The perfect game was no more.

The crowd in Oakland erupted.  Holman had failed.  With one pitch, he’d gone back to being a nobody.

“What a bum!” my father shouted.  “He grooved it right over the plate!  Right over the plate!  He choked!  I could’ve hit that pitch!”

I felt sad.  Ashamed for some reason.  Beat.  Phelps trotted around the bases.  It would be the last home run of his career.  It was fitting, I guess.  Old men always have a way of shitting all over the great ambitions of young ones.

The Real Brian Holman struck out Ricky Henderson to end the game.  He would pitch another year before his arm went out on him and he was forced to retire.  I watched an interview with him on YouTube where he talked about the night he almost made history.  He said he couldn’t sleep, and at 4 in the morning he screamed as loud as he could because he knew he would never come that close again.

You don’t have to be asleep to wake up from a dream.  I’m not sure how the Fantasy Brian Holman did after that.  If my memory is correct, my league didn’t go on much longer.  My heart wasn’t in it anymore, and the league folded.

I actually feel bad for writing that Brian Holman became a “nobody.”  He didn’t.  In reality, he became a manager at a consulting firm and a motivational speaker.  It sounds like life has been more than okay for him.

Still, I wonder how he sees himself.  In a shirt and tie, working in an office, or on the pitcher’s mound, back in 1990, one out away from being perfect.

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Basketball, Blow Jobs, and Burying the Cat

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The man I’ve always wanted to be.

Back around Christmas time, C-Batz and I were riding the bus back to my apartment with the beetles we’d bought for the Korean orphans (don’t ask, long story).  It had been a few weeks since my silly ear hoodie post got Freshly Pressed and suddenly my blog was getting a lot more hits.  I turned to C-Batz, who writes a good blog herself, and asked her a question.

“Hey,” I said.  “Would you say I write kind of a chick blog?”

“Not really,” she said.  “Why?”

“I looked through the people that read it,” I told her, “and I noticed that substantially more women follow it than men.  Do you think it’s kind of, I dunno, not something a guy would read?  Maybe there’s too much about dating and being neurotic and I’m not writing about real guy stuff.”

I had asked C-Batz on purpose, because she has a good head on her and can offer interesting feedback.  “Well,” she said, “it’s a personal blog, and I don’t know if a ton of guys read personal blogs.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean…what do you write about?  You, pretty much.  I think that most of the time, guys tend to read about topics that interest them.  Guys read blogs about politics or sports or something.”

I nodded.  What she said made sense.  “Guys want to read about, say, basketball.”

“Sure,” she said, losing interest.

“Well then,” I said, the light bulb above my head flickering, “I like basketball!  I’ll start writing a blog about basketball.”

“Why?”

“Because I need to be more of a dude.  This will be great!  I can write about basketball and talk to guys in the comment section.  About basketball!”

C-Batz thought for a second.  “You really don’t have many good male friends, do you?”

“None right now,” I informed her.  “They all left in September.  This beetle is the closest thing I’ve had to a male friend in months.”

I’m not sure what she said next.  I was already writing expert basketball analysis in my head.

*

I was still thinking about my lack of male friends when I got an invitation to join some people out at a bar.  I accepted this invitation, as they were people and a bar was involved.  How someone says ‘no’ to that, I have no idea.  When I arrived, I quickly noticed that there weren’t any other dudes in the group.  Their omission was highly conspicuous.

“We’re playing truth or dare,” one of the many women at the table said.

“Truth or dare?” I repeated in question form.  What was going on here, and where were the other guys?

“Yeah,” another girl said, “it’s girls’ night out tonight.  We’re gonna do some blow job shots and then go dancing!”

“Girls’ night out?  What am I…like your gay friend or something?”

“Oh stop it,” Taryn said.  “Hey, somebody order Bill a blow job.”

“I don’t want a blow job!”

“Whatever,” Gabby Cat said.  “Truth or dare?”

The bartender came over with a bunch of blow job shots.  Thankfully there wasn’t one for me.  The girls put their arms behind their backs and downed them look-no-hands-style while I sat there befuddled.  “Truth.”

“Okay.  Who’s the last girl you slept with?”

“Jesus!  I’m not answering that!”

“Hey, you picked ‘truth.’”

“I didn’t think it would be so specific.”

“Don’t worry.  We’ll all answer it.”

I looked around at the sweet and innocent faces of my female friends.  “Um, I don’t think I want to know that information.  Are there really no more guys coming out tonight?”

In truth, this has been a problem all my life.  I’ve always had difficulty making friends with guys and have simultaneously always had a very easy time talking with and making friendships with women.  I don’t know what it is exactly…I’m fascinated by girls and am typically very comfortable talking to them.  On the other hand, I get uncomfortable around guys.  I don’t feel guyish enough, which is odd because I’m very much a normal sex/sports/drinking kind of dude myself.  Maybe it’s my softer side, the side that loves old musicals and hates lifting anything.  And cars.  I don’t find cars interesting.  Unless we’re talking about the Gary Newman song.

After the girls got more blow jobs, we were off to the dance club.  I pictured my future.  I saw a large circle of women, dancing and having a grand old time, and then there was me, a ring in their chain, throwing my arms up and mouthing Rihanna lyrics.  It was not a pretty picture.

“I like being around women,” I thought, “but I don’t want to BE one of the girls.”

Being a guy is pretty great.  When the girls went off to dance I stayed at the table alone, smoked, drank most of the vodka they’d ordered, and scratched myself just for good measure.

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Way back in the day when I used to go to therapy with Dr. Robyn, she would tell me that my insecurity around men stemmed from how intimidated I was by my father growing up.  He was an intense dude, with a clearly defined image of what a ‘man’ is supposed to be.  I remember once he knocked on my bedroom door, and when I opened it he thrust a plastic bag in my face.  Our pet cat was inside.  “A man buries his animal,” my father said, handing me the dead cat and a shovel.  “Go bury Tiger.”

And I did.  He also told me that I would become a man the day I beat him at arm wrestling.  I was maybe ten at the time, and I guess he just assumed I would eventually be able to do that.  Unfortunately, I still can’t take the bastard, which makes me a big kid with a buried cat.  Maybe when he’s 80ish I’ll finally achieve manhood.

Lately, I’ve been able to make a few guy friends, without having to resort to a lame basketball blog.  I guess the best thing to do sometimes is just to accept who you are, stop wondering what’s wrong with you, and, most importantly, to never, ever choose ‘truth’ during girls’ night out.

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Judging the Accuracy of High School Nerd Movies (As Only a Real Nerd Could Do)

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High school was not a great time for me.  It was four years of humiliation, of getting harassed and rejected…and that was my home life.  At school it was even worse.  I was picked on and physically assaulted almost hourly, as though guidance counselors squeezed that into their students’ schedules.  “Fourth period I’ve put you in Geometry,” they would say, “with PE fifth period.  After that, I’ve got you spending sixth period hitting Bill Panara in the chest and making mean comments about his acne.”

It was nightmare.  I had exactly one girlfriend and that romance lasted all of a week.  We burned out fast, one might say.  Another might say she came to her senses.  Regardless, years have now passed and I’ve bloomed into the lovely flower I’ve always imagined myself being…commonly called the ‘wallflower.’  I get nervous around people and am still, at heart, the same socially awkward young man I was at 14.

Maybe due to some lingering bitterness, I’m strangely drawn to watching every movie about high school that pops up at theatres like a whitehead on my nose during 9th grade science class. Most of the time, I find them to be likeably dumb (take for instance Can’t Hardly Wait or Mean Girls), although in rare instances they transcend the genre and make for brilliant cinema, as in the cases of Donnie Darko or Election.  But I’ll leave the critiques to people like Roger Ebert and that annoyingly smarmy guy who replaced Gene Siskel.  This blog post is not about the quality of high school movies, but instead about the accuracy of high school movies that center around a geeky character.  As I alluded to earlier, being a 16-year-old misfit was my authentic experience; hence I feel I can gauge how accurately that is being portrayed on screen.  Watching a high school movie, for me, is somewhat akin to a WWII vet to sitting through Saving Private Ryan.  How good or bad the movie is becomes largely secondary to judging the realness of what’s going on.

Beginning with this year’s indie hit, Terri, here are my authenticity ratings of some modern nerd masterpieces.  Feel free to make your own ratings, but only if you’ve ever had to wear large glasses or glue a retainer to the roof of your mouth with denture cream.

Terri (2011) – The title character is a big fat kid who wears pajamas to school, is picked on (in an offscreen kind of way), and eventually develops a crush on the school slut.  The movie isn’t bad, but sadly it doesn’t rate highly on the authenticity scale.  First, the slutty girl – who in real life would be the most popular girl in her grade – is outcasted after letting some boy touch her in Home Economics class.  Heck, I know guys who touched themselves in class and got less flack for it.  Secondly, the movie yet again goes down the annoying path of having some very attractive young lady fall for the nerd because she sees the goodness of his heart.  Things don’t work like that in the real world, nor do I believe Terri would later burst into tears when she gets drunk and starts seducing him.  Why does the nerd always have super morals?  See, Terri only wants a good girl, one who doesn’t need a bottle of vodka before she strips off his enormous PJs and ravishes his amoeba-like body.  Cut the phony ethics, Terri, and be happy with what the screenwriters give you.  Authenticity Rating: 4 out of 10

Napoleon Dynamite – I’m not ashamed to say that I love this movie.  It’s really funny and it soothes my resentful, angry nerd soul.  I like that it gives no dimension to any of the characters besides the geeky heroes.  The jock guy barely even has lines – he simply looks like a jock guy and that’s good enough.  I also like that the girl who plays the love interest isn’t a knock out and that she and Napoleon Dynamite are too shy to ever do anything together.  Sure, the end hints that they’ll start dating, but it isn’t shoved down my throat.  The climatic dance is also brilliant, as Napoleon’s triumph is just the result of him continuing to be weird until he does something so odd it’s kind of terrible and kind of great.  It also adds accuracy that he seems miserable for most of the movie.  “Do chickens have large talons?”  Authenticity Rating: 8 out of 10.

American Pie – This one is kind of a classic, so it must be discussed.  The key difference with American Pie and other movies is that these characters aren’t really nerds – they’re in the pupa stage of becoming moronic frat boys.  I give the movie leeway because of that.  Plus, the main male character has sex with a pie and the main female character has sex with a flute.  Nothing much in the movie is sugarcoated besides, I guess, Jason Biggs’ penis.  Try saying that five times fast…no, don’t.  I don’t want your roommate wondering why you’re looking at a computer screen, obsessively repeating Jason’s Big Penis.  Authenticity Rating: 6 out of 10.

Welcome to the Dollhouse – The story of Dawn Weiner is almost too painful for me to watch.  Yeah, it’s funny.  It’s also incredibly mean-spirited and merciless.  In other words, it’s really accurate.  Authenticity Rating: 10 out of 10.

Superbad – I’ll start by saying that Superbad, as a movie, is better than Welcome to the Dollhouse.  That said, as accuracy goes, this one’s about as big a fantasy as Lord of the Rings or Spiderman 2 was.  Firstly, we have the doe-eyed babe who, inexplicably, is romantically interested in Jonah Hill.  I went to high school with guys who look like Jonah Hill.  You know who wants to date them?  Girls who look like Jonah Hill, that’s who.  Secondly, we’re again given the Noble Nerd, as Michael Cera refuses to go past first base with his drunken crush.  Lastly, and most importantly, not just any girl, but an attractive girl has sex with McLovin.  In reality, Golem has a better chance of scoring with Sam than McLovin would have with that redheaded girl.  I think the problem here is the same thing that happened with Terri.  In both cases, we have movies about nerds being made by people who never experienced nerdom themselves.  Terri is directed by Azazel Jacobs, the son of iconic avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs, and Superbad is written by Seth Rogan, who was on a nationally syndicated television series when he was 16 (Freaks and Geeks).  People give Seth Rogan a nerd pass because he’s chubby and Jewish; hey, when I was 16, my idea of a romantic evening was watching Red Shoe Diaries alone in the basement with the TV on mute.  I think Seth Rogan, in Hollywood and on a television program, was doing a little bit better than that.  At the very least, I’m guessing he had the volume on.  Authenticity Rating: 2 out of 10.

A great nerd movie doesn’t only capture the humorous aspects of nerdom, but the pain as well.  It remembers that real nerds don’t choose to be nerds – the most important thing to a real nerd isn’t who he is, but who he isn’t.

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