Saturday, September 18, 2010

Conor - FFFF

First, a snapshot. This is a picture of the Final Fantasy Friends Forever crew. This is a picture of us embarking on a quest, a quest that we would ultimately fail. Here we are beginning our attack on Final Fantasy VIII. Eliot's starting, as per usual, Brian is hard at work guiding Eliot's metaphorical cock, and I'm looking focused. This is one or two hours into an approximately 50 hour ordeal. Two days later we would walk out of my basement, disappointed, tired, and slightly more fat, but this is a picture of us at our best. Me at my best, anyway.

FFFF began on homecoming night. After hanging out and playing tackle tag at Laura Shull's house, I headed home. Classic Brian and Eliots plans fell through and we all ended up on my couch downstairs, semi-snuggling and chatting. Brian, Eliot and I were a friendship waiting to happen. Brian and I had made jokes constantly about being best friends, and Eliot was someone I was always painfully aware SHOULD be my friend. That night, the stars aligned, and we discovered something together. We found out that we all wanted to be this guy.

Cloud Strife - Age, 21. Bloodtype, AB. Game, Final Fantasy VII. What might be the greatest game of all time.

Cloud's just a guy. He's just a guy from this town called Nibelheim. This town has like, 6 houses, an ominous mansion, and no apparent source of food. I don't remember if there are any bathrooms in this town but I doubt it. Cloud has some issues that he comes to terms with throughout the course of the tale, but more importantly, he can swing ridiculously large swords, and he does so with gusto. With improbable gusto.

Final Fantasy VII was the first video game I ever got into. Really, really into. My brother introduced it to me when I was seven, and I beat it that year. I spent probably around a hundred hours with Cloud, Barret, Tifa, Red XIII, Yuffie, Vincent, Cid, and probably something like 25 with Aeris, before she *spoiler alert* bitched out on us. P.S. I cried when I first learned over her bitching out.

Final Fantasy was my childhood. I loved the characters, I loved (and barely understood) the stories, and I loved the music. (more on the music later) You know how you feel when every character you liked in Harry Potter dies in the last book? By the end of a Final Fantasy title, you've spent probably around 50 hours with the heroes. You care for them. You care what happens to them.

Homecoming night I found out I wasn't alone. Homecoming night I found two kindred spirits, and we planned our journey into our past, and our future. We planned on conquering the Final Fantasys, one by one, together, as a team. AND SO WE DID.


VII, VIII, and XII we weekended. Weekending Final Fantasy is one of the best things I've ever done. It's beautiful. It's a social experiment that alternatively tears us apart and brings us together. The rules are simple: beat a Final Fantasy over the span of three days. One person ALWAYS needs to be playing the game. It's the unspoken rules that really matter. If a strategy guide is available, one of the off duty players should guide the players cock, making him aware of the upcoming goodies and baddies. Sleep in shifts.

FF weekends are an interesting social bubble. Brian, Eliot and I are truly a team. We work well together. Mainly. Eliot makes things weird, I throw tantrums, and Brian remains pretty classic. (Oh! The name Classic Brian was born during the FF VIII weekend. Claaaaaaaassic.) I fall asleep, Eliot either plays really really well or really really badly and Brian just keeps us classy. Honestly, Brian is the glue. Without him, it wouldn't work. Eliot is the best at strategizing, I'm the prettiest, and Brian keeps us from falling apart. Our friends come, too. Nick is constantly there, questioning us and being a mean robot. Andrew Rogers is there, playing other video games and supplying me with the laughter. The people I love the most bring food. Lots of food. By the end, the basement is a black hole of filth and trash and friendship. It's beautiful, and I honestly can't think of anything I'd rather be doing right now.


SUMMER 2012. Brian, Eliot and I are planning the finale to our friendship, and our quest.

There is nothing else in my entire life that I'm looking forward to more.This is going to be one of the defining events of my entire life.

Call us crazy. Call us anything you want. Call us the FFFF.

P.S. Look here later today when I edit this post and add more about the music in Final Fantasy! Here's a sneak preview: I like it a lot.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Catcher in this Guy

by Brendan Cavanagh

When I was thirteen years old, I was a wide-eyed, optimistic eighth grader.

I knew nothing about dating a girl, I was happily dependent upon my parents for everything and there was literally only one person in the world that I disliked (and, incidentally, I passionately hated this person for good reason). I was a clean-cut, studious, fairly pusillanimous child, just beginning to learn the ropes of being a teenager on the precipice of graduation from top-dog status in junior high to subservient freshman. My favorite book was Harry Potter (all of them), I dug "classic rock" and I wanted to be a lawyer. All of this, as well as my general worldview, was changed the day my mother decided to once again intervene in my literary affairs and make a novel suggestion, no pun intended (yes it was). She politely asked me to set down my copy of the Half-Blood Prince and recommended that I try out J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, saying "I read it when I was your age, as everyone should, but it's really more of a guy book. I think you'll appreciate it." Little did she know that the book would shape many subsequent aspects of my life and ultimately influence the way I understand people and situations today.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of reading Catcher in the Rye, the novel focuses on the opinionated and profane Holden Caulfield, a cynical sixteen year old who has just been expelled from yet another school. He's too ashamed to go home and face his parents, who will soon be notified of his expulsion, so he rides a train on over to New York where he wanders aimlessly for a few days prior to his return home.

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

What I love about Holden, despite his nearly unbearable, self-righteous (and often incorrect) attitude, is his ability to assess people's character and how they interact with others.

"People never believe you."

"People never notice anything."

"People always think something's all true."

Usually these viewpoints are highly negative, but he really showed me how pretentious, asinine, arrogant, conceited and (his favorite word) phony people can be. However, he also has an eye for the good in people, regularly referring back to his younger brother, Allie, whose death a few years ago still haunts him. He describes the inherent goodness in people, like the innocence in his sister, Phoebe, or the simplicity of the second-graders he witnesses at his favorite childhood haunt, the city museum (you know, where like here in Springfield, you can see visually-appealing displays of Native American life, displays that are always consistent and dependable, remaining the same no matter how old you are, when you inevitably come back).

Over the course of the few days in the book, Holden narrates simultaneously his time spent wandering New York in search of fulfillment and inner peace as well as some of the significant experiences of the last few years that have cultivated his identity. His brother's death, the douchebags and phonies at prep schools and the idiosyncrasies of girls in his past all play out in his affairs in New York. He gets more and more depressed- depressed by the significant (death, sex, etc.) and the insignificant alike. This is what really resonated with me.

You see, Holden allows all the little things in life to bother him. It's a terrible outlook, but it made so much sense to me, as did everything else he said. So let's say, for instance, this one time I was at Buffalo Wild Wings, and as my friends and I watched SPORTS! and ate wings, I watched a young boy playing arcade games nearby. As soon as he'd finish a game, he would run immediately back to his mother and beg for more money to let him play "just one more game," but then he'd just do it again. Of course, this is not that big of a deal- kids like playing games and parents are naturally obliging, and it's just some spare change. But to me, it was the most depressing thing I had seen in a while. I took Holden's mindset way too far. I painfully thought back to when I used to do that, and believed I was wasting my parents' money and just taking them for granted, and I also lamented for the video game-obsession of today's youth, and all this stuff mixed together and hit me like a freight train. I would see stuff like this and feel like crying. And I saw these situations all the time.

It was a crazy way to live. Over the next year and a half I read and reread Catcher in the Rye as if it was a Harry Potter book. It immediately overtook HP's spot on my list of best books I've read. Now don't think I just walked around depressed all the time, but reading this book like a Bible further solidified Holden's philosophies within my mind and I began to associate more and more with him. I became a bit more edgy: I considered myself an optimist no more- not a pessimist though, but a "realist." I started to weigh in the bad with the good. I occasionally got down about things. I started judging people for being too "phony" and considered myself right about everything. I was okay with spending time alone and engaging in a lot of self-reflection. Yet, I became more confident in myself, in what made me different than others. Rather than admiring the legal profession, I realized what I liked best was to reflect on myself and others and make commentaries, so I decided to become a writer. However, because I let the "phonies" bother me too much, I started to dislike anything that I considered "overrated," even if it was something I used to like.

For example, in seventh grade I began to give Green Day's American Idiot a serious listen. Although it came out in 2004 (that being a year or so prior), it was not very popular in my school and my buddy and I were among the first to get into it. Then after a while, after I really began to appreciate the album, EVERYONE started to listen to it, and everywhere I went I heard "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" or something- the radio, peers' mp3 players and even at junior high dances. This frustrated me so much because I saw these "fans" as posers who were just jumping on the bandwagon, mindlessly raving about American Idiot as if they were long-time fans. I neglected to recognize that I was one of the posers; I just happened to jump on that bandwagon a little earlier than my peers. But because so many people liked the album, I promptly cast aside the CD and focused on other music, music I could call my own. I did stuff like this all the time. It was stupid, I realize, to reject music, movies, ideas I previously liked just because people I disliked appreciated them, too. Yet, in a way, I suppose it was somewhat beneficial in that I actively pursued new things in hopes of cultivating my own personal identity. I can attribute a lot of my interests today to my post-Catcher pursuits.

So until March of 2008, I was doing okay. I was still an active, generally happy guy who just had a weird penchant for challenging conventions. But then what I mentioned earlier, the depression, soared (or should I say plummeted?) when I picked up a job at Cold Stone. Yeah, partly it's like what I've said in blogs past, the management was less-than-desirable and borderline tyrannical, but my Catcher-induced depression about little things joined in to make my six months there miserable. As I daily submitted to the harsh conditions put in place by the owner and his wife, I also got a very real sense of the kinds of people that frequented the shop. Most people were normal, but there was still a sizable number of the most wretched, pathetic, sad people I had ever seen.

One guy came in almost every day. He was a creepy bloke, so we called him Creeper. Creeper wore the same rainbow belt everyday, had a very soft voice and softer hands (they appeared to be over-scrubbed, which we attributed to obsessive-compulsive hand washing). He moved slowly and liked to deliberate heavily before ordering his outrageously-mixed ice cream- which he did twice each time he came. And now for the cherry on top- Creeper ONLY paid with a Cold Stone Creamery gift card. And when he ran out of money on his card, he simply asked us to put more money on the card and then he would use that same card to pay for his ice cream. It was the most bizarre thing we had ever seen. It was hilarious, but I just felt so bad for him, too.

Then there were the homeless people. "Meth Lady" and "'Can I Borrow Your Phone? ('Can I Steal Your Grab N Go Ice Cream While You Retrieve the Phone?') Lady" and the like. I hated seeing them come in and beg for money and harass us and the customers. I didn't think about the plight a lot of people live in until I experienced it firsthand.

And then just a variety of customers: the obese, who often greedily bought ice cream, the blind, who just made me sad for no reason (and one time the guy gave me the wrong bill, and I had to correct him), and so on and so forth.

Ultimately, I wasn't depressed about the people so much as the harsh conditions at the shop, and after I spent a grueling summer there, I quit to engage in healthier and happier pursuits- school and cross country. And you know what? I became a happier person. I learned how to disregard a lot of the erroneous things Holden said in The Catcher in the Rye and I learned how not to let stupid daily things bother me. I realized I was just being, once again, super-impressionable and reading (no pun intended) into the text too vigorously.

But one of the single most uplifting experiences that allowed me to see the good in my life and the injustice in Cold Stone, what put my gears into motion into quitting my job and becoming a happier man, was a note my mom gave me. That summer I had lent my copy of Catcher to several of my brother's friends, who essentially mutilated it with their greasy fingers and general disregard for others' property. It's understandable. But it killed me because it was MY copy, MY Bible, it was so important to me. So out of the blue one day, my mom bought me another copy- the copy I still use today- and presented it to me with her St. Agnes teacher's business card inside, on the back of which was written,

"7. 16. 08
be yourself
because that
is a GREAT
person to be.
J.D. & I
both think
<3 Mom"

I felt so happy reading that. I realized sad was no way to go about life (what's messed up is I used to like being sad about things, I felt like it enriched my character and allowed me to see things as they really were).

All in all, Catcher in the Rye has been a most influential book. Despite the slight negative influence it had on my early high school career, I was never really in that bad of shape. I just liked sitting on a world-weary pedestal. But honestly, I agree with a lot of what Holden has to say. I think a book like that could only be written by a genius, someone like J.D. Salinger. Turns out the guy shut himself up after a while, living his life in seclusion for years until he died this year (incidentally, Walter Kirn wrote a FANTASTIC tribute to Salinger for Rolling Stone, check it out here). He hasn't released much material, but Lord knows he probably has myriad other works hidden away in his house. At any rate, I don't think I could ever really enjoy anything else by Salinger. Catcher in the Rye is just too perfect for me. I won't say I'll never relate to another book like I have with this one (I said the same thing when reading HP), but I just don't know that another book can hit me at the right time like Catcher did and subsequently influence so many things about me. Holden's got it right again:

"What really knocks me out is a book, when you're all done reading it, you wished the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it."

I hate writing this. It's making me too sentimental. Not about all that mumbo-jumbo with Cold Stone and "depression" and that, but of all the times I read this book initially. The last five years of my life. My "formative years." Holden's stuck around my side for a while now, giving me advice here and there (but as much as I love the kid, I have to ignore him quite often). But he closes the novel with a beautiful line, one that's resonated with me since the moment I read it:

"Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."

I really hope this influences you to read Catcher in the Rye, too. It's never too late. And even if you have read it, I hope you can now reexamine what you read and maybe recognize the Ward Stradlaters, the Jane Gallaghers, the Ackleys, the Phoebes, and the Holdens in your life.

To those of you who HAVE read it, please, let me know what your favorite part about it is. We can all learn a lot from each other from our favorite sections. Personally, the scene Holden recounts about a rainy day with his old love, Jane Gallagher, in which he plays checkers with her as she begins to cry because of the way her father treats her. It's so poignant- Holden describes looking at the checkerboard and witnessing a single tear drop fall from ol' Jane's eye onto a square. He starts to comfort her, kissing her everywhere but the mouth. God. "Does she still keep her kings in the back row?"

I could write a better ending to this blog post, but I'm slowly gravitating towards my copy of Catcher in the Rye...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Childhood Obsessions Part Eliot: Dragonball Z

Go ahead, reader. Narrate the following pic for me, insert a quip if you will.

If you said "AAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHH!H!H!H!H!H!HH!H!H!H!H!H!!!!!!!" then you narrated correctly. The fellow pictured above is named Broly. He's a bad guy, and he could kick you, me, your dad, and our planet's ass in about four seconds. But you know who's ass he can't kick? Kakarot. Kakarot is the Saiyan name of one of my all time favorite heroes, Goku.

Goku lives in the realm of Dragonball Z. Where fighting is about as necessary as water. The cartoon supposedly takes place on planet earth, but it is clearly a caricatured version of our modern society. This cartoon had me glued to my television every day at varying times, switching from 4 P.M. to 5 P.M., 6 P.M. sometimes even 9 P.M. Regardless, I loved this show. Like Brendan's Harry Potter or Nick's Squirtle, my childhood idol was Goku. He didn't have a last name. Last names are for bitches.

There's my guy. Ahh, what a dude. First off, Goku is absolutely incorruptible. He has literally turned down galaxies for the sake of the community. He has sacrificed his life and his well-being many a time for the sake of his friend's comfort and safety. He would take more than a bullet for a buddy, he would take a death beam. Goku embodies the purest form of good. He holds himself to a higher standard of justice than one could possibly fathom. If his death is in his son's best interests, you better believe he's going to do it.

You may be asking yourself, "how does one die as many times as you've referenced Goku sacrificing his life to do so?" ...or something like that. Allow me introduce to you the concept of fiction. Dragonball Z is, at its core, based around the premise of seven magical balls (numbered 1-7 by how many stars they have) that, when collected and held in close proximity of one another, allow for the possessor to summon the baddest assest dragon of ALL TIME. He has a voice that would make James Earl Jones sound like Rosanne and can grant you, depending on which planet he is from, one or three wishes. Often times these wishes get used to wish people back from the dead (given that they didn't die of natural causes). So if Goku wants to go and get killed by Cell, he can do so with the hopes of later returning to glory after his friends collect the seven dragon balls. This shit sounds great, right? Well, evil and wayward entities try to have their own wishes granted. Immortality, all the power in the universe, and wealth are most wanted items. Enter Goku and his friends, dubbed "the Z fighters" by the awesomely intense voice-over guy who begins and ends each episode. The Z fighters have to foil their evil plans, usually by killing them, and restore order to the world.

Goku and co. have fought off three members of an ancient warrior race, a fighting team that was goofy beyond belief, their master, a couple crazy robots, an alien creation, and a bigass piece of bubble gum.

The most memorable of all of these villains was Frieza. The one i described as "their master". Why? Because I was ripe in age when he was fighting everybody, and furthermore, that dude was bad. How bad? Wiping out races and planets in mere minutes bad. Showing no regard for life of any kind as he expanded his empire at the same speed he could expand a huge energy blast. Peaceful takeover was out of the question, this creature was out for blood. Frieza came in with a legendary laundry list of heads he had accumulated over the years, and planned on adding to that when visiting the small planet of Namek.

Enter our hero Goku, and his friends, after dispatching the Ginyu Force (those quirky punks linked above) Goku was in bad shape, and was put it in a recovery pod similar to the ones seen in Storm Troopers and Resident Evil: Apocalypse. He was out of commission for a while, but his friends (including his lil son) had to fight off the most badass killing machine the universe had ever seen. After recently re-watching this fantastic saga, I addressed the burning need to check my twelve year old self with my current personality. The shit checks out, I loved the series.

Many a fan's biggest gripe with the series is that nothing ever happens in any of the episodes and that the series is just one cliffhanger after another. Admittedly, they do stretch a bout with one monster over the course of 33 episodes, but there's more to it than that. It's about surviving the iron fist that is Frieza long enough to be rescued by Goku. And the episodes themselves are actually fairly entertaining, despite their being little significant story progression.

When Goku does finally recoup and comes to face his Frieza, something amazing happens. Dragonball Z manages to take the most evil thing in the world and pit it against the most pure and goodhearted thing in the world, and have them fight each other to the death for supremacy. Unlike in Star Wars, another classic good v. evil tale, Frieza doesn't turn cheek. He doesn't spare anybody. He is all-powerful, mighty, hateful, and cocky about it at that. Goku tries several times to teach him the error of his ways but it's clear that the alien can't learn a damn thing. It ends up that Goku has to kill this evil monstrosity with his bare hands. He doesn't but he finds a clever way to get the job done.

As a kid, I paralleled every battle in my life to this saga. My side was Goku, their side was Frieza. Packers? Goku. Bulls? Goku. John Kerry? Goku. President Bush? Frieza. Minnesota Vikings? Frieza. My mom when I argue with her? Frieza. My mom when I argue with my brothers? Goku. Led Zeppelin? Goku. AC/DC? Frieza. The battle was long and epic. The combatants kept pushing themselves to higher power levels (one million!?) until they finally ended up becoming so strong and the force of their clashes so immense that they literally tore the planet apart just by beating each other up on it. The whole show is so hyperbolic. Everything is assumed to be at the grandest of scales. One punch from Goku could probably knock over the Sears (not Willis) Tower. Also they can fly, so, just get over that now.

This show was everything you wanted to be as a kid growing up. Powerful, strong, you could fly, you could shoot energy blasts with your bare hands. Plus you were Goku. You were good. You had a wife and kids and everybody looked up to you you were the best most wonderful most nicest thing in the whole entire universe. That was your goal. If you found seven dragon balls you could wish for anything in the world that you wanted! Probably a million dollars. Maybe more, if it exists. Plus they bled and they got beat up and it wasn't like Pokemon where they just got a sad face and were called back to their ball. They fucking died! Yeah, they could get wished back, but Frieza literally exploded Goku's best friend! Like as if he were in a microwave. How cool is that? This shit was serious.

Watching it now, it obviously isn't the same. I've long given up my dream of being Gohan and I will never get the chance to meet Trunks with his badass purple hair. But still I watch it, for what I'd like to believe was more than nostalgia. Because it goes back to the basics. Good versus evil. And that, with enough willpower and hard work, you can prevail over any asshole that stands in your way.

So that was my childhood niche. Watching galactic powers compete for shiny balls and eternal life. But, hopefully, there was something more to be learned.

--Eliot Sill

PS-Why in the fuck would I make a post about Dragonball Z and not include this guy?


Piccolo was a Namekian, native to the planet Namek. They were all green like this and they got murdered by Frieza. Luckily they were wished back however. So Star Wars has Ewoks, DBZ has Namekians, like Piccolo. Now if only they could have a baby...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mada posting at 9:30 on Tuesday. Nice!

Do you listen to the radio? To a normal audience the question would warrant an automatic yes, but I know my fellow members of Classic Brian and probably whoever reads our posts are not all radio-listeners. Anyway, my answer is yes. i do listen to the radio, and I've noticed something pretty interesting. We are in currently in the ear of Pop Divas. Top 40 is knee deep in women, just like Eliot at college. And furthermore, I don't hate it.

1. Taylor Swift- I don't give a fuck what none y'all say Taylor Swift is talented and I love her. She is a very young solo artist who has already come out with 3 albums. Oh yeah and she writes her own songs. In some genres this is no great feat, but in the pop world it is almost impossible to write your own stuff and have it appeal to the masses. Taylor Swift has managed to do this time and time again.

2. Lady Gaga- Now Lady Gaga is one of those touchy subjects where opinions differ strongly and tension runs high. i personally side with the idea that she is a genius. Lady Gaga has figured out the exact formula of pop culture and has became an icon in a matter of months. Her rise was shocking and a bit confusing. She is, in my opinion, pop art. What she create, her image and her songs, are no necessarily "good" at face value but they are so perfectly constructed that you have to give her a hand.

3. Ke$ha- Kesha has absolutely no talent, stage presence, creativity or idea what's going on. She's a drunk whore.

4. Beyonce- I probably have more respect for Beyonce than I should but I love her. She is an amazing performer and an amazing singer. As far as pop music goes she really is pushing the envelope and coming up with new things. Her single-ladies video was in black and white and the entire thing consisted of her and two back up dancers dancing on a sound stage. The minimalism was jarring next to the other high budget videos we see today. And if you've never heard the song If I Were a Boy, I thoroughly recommend it. It is powerful and a bit unexpected because you keep expecting the build up to erupt in a belty bridge but it never comes.

5. Pink- Pink is someone I always kind of hated growing up. She had stupid songs and I thought her badass persona was dumb. My recent opinion of her has taken a complete 180. What's awesome about Pink's new stuff is that she really doesn't give a shit. She sings songs about her ex-husband that are real honest and usually has the attitude that she doesn't give a fuck because she's a rockstar. This is not an attitude that is often seen in female stars and it suits her well. I began wondering what had changed to make me like her music and after some research I found that she didn't really write her own stuff until her newest album. Good for you Pink, what you have to say is a lot cooler than what your label has to say.

6. Rhianna, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, etc.- These people are pretty straight forward pop but have come out with a couple decent songs. They aren't really in the same category as the artists above but still contribute to the sheer number of females filling up the charts.

If you care to hear what I'm talking about You can always take a look at the playlist I made for this post.

Nick - The End Of An Era

One of my biggest laments as the summer ended was saying goodbye to improv. I knew that even though I would probably try to join a new improv troupe in college, I would really miss my friends I worked with in Easily Amused.

I guess what I didn't realize is how different college improv is.

Perhaps that's not even a fair assessment; probably this is how improv has always been, and Easily Amused was just a very special category of its own in the vast world of improv techniques. But what I want to talk about today is the huge difference between my experience in Springfield and my experience here.

Before I auditioned for anything, I went to a couple of improv shows and noticed a couple of strange things right away. First, their "short form" improv games regularly went on at least twice as long as any of ours. After a scene had gone on for awhile, I found myself mentally picturing Conor signaling frantically from backstage to hurry up and end the scene. But I think the other thing I noticed is what really defines this style of improv:


Improv here is all about character. Never ever will they have a scene in which the participants are simply themselves; they focus all of their ability first and foremost on developing a character and a relationship with the other characters in the scene. This creates a vastly different rhythm from Easily Amused shows; they usually set up slowly, allowing the audience to get to know the characters before beginning the process of making funny things happen. Easily Amused, meanwhile, was a fast-paced theatrical aimed at drawing as many laughs as possible; for every set-up, there was a punchline, and we never allowed the audience to go too long without a laugh.

I think the difference in character here is caused by a very fundamental difference in objective between Easily Amused and professional improv: Easily Amused was about making people laugh, and about making jokes for our friends in the audience. Professional improv is all about acting. Humor is the goal, but it isn't what the technique is centered around; the technique is centered around gaining and displaying your acting skill.

Let me make it abundantly clear that I am not, in any way, condemning the college improv scene. I've only just had my first impression of it, and I've yet to even attend my first Titanic Players improv practice. I just wanted to write about how different it is from my experience with Easily Amused, and how nothing will ever replace them in my mind.

I'm sure I'll be writing more about my new improv troupe later, so on to my next adventure; but first I want to give a shout out to all my Easily Amused friends.

EATIT forever.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Adventures in the Labyrinth Part 1: Robert Lange vs. the Traffic Court Minotaur

--Robert Langellier

An event about 2 months ago where I went 45 miles per hour on an almost empty street has resulted in an honest want to live in a different country. Damn you, judicial system.

When it comes to traffic court, I think the goal of Illinois’ government (and I imagine pretty much all other states’ governments) is to beat you into submission via boredom and mental exhaustion. You dare venture outside the literal boundaries of the law, and you will be duly punished and taught a stern lesson. Yes, you’ll pay a good $75-100 in fines, or an extra fee for supervision, or take an idiotic, I-could’ve-passed-this-without-eyeballs-or-eardrums driving course, but the real motivation to stop legally sinning is the bureaucratic rap on the knuckles you get from the time you get the ticket to the time you’re finally done with it. It’s a fear-based system – a fear of being really, really irritated for a really long time.

First you sit in your car on the side of the road for a half hour staring at the fireworks display of red and blue in your rearview while Jerome the Policeman unearths your English grades from summer school before freshman year. He asks for your insurance, you realize you have no god damn clue where that could be, and you wait while Jerome goes back and double checks that those English grades are correct, because there’s no way you passed school without knowing where your insurance is. Then he writes you a short biography about yourself on a yellow slip of $75 paper and thanks you for being so cooperative.

You go home and tell your parents how the child they’ve raised has grown up to be a failure, and you make a mental sticky note of your court date that remains in the back of your mind, occasionally resurfacing, for weeks and weeks. Of course, it hits you shortly that, on September 7th, you’ll have been in college for 3 weeks. Wuh oh! That’s okay, quick fix. All you have to do is call the Attorney General’s Office, allow them to transfer you between every employee on duty that day, and then be told that you can’t change court dates because your ticket isn’t on their record yet. Fortunately, you can call back a month later and be told that you can’t change court dates because that’s not allowed.

September rolls around eventually, and you’ve accepted the fact that you’re going to have to take the ticket in the face like a man, so you arrange the 4-hour ride back to old Springfieldtown. Traffic court is always packed, so you show up early, just in time to realize you’ve left your license at home. By time you’ve punished your steering wheel with a stern physical beating for making you forget, gone home to get your license, and returned to court, you’re 15 minutes late and just 2 short hours away from your 60-second guilty plea to Judge Indifference. You spend those 2 hours either sitting in line waiting to be let in the courtroom, or sitting between 2 strangers staring at the wall waiting to be let in front of the judge. In respect to His Honor (the judge, not God), there are no cell phones, no reading, no talking, and no practical way to whittle the seconds away except to pet your dislike for a system far more powerful and constrictive than you are. Minimal breathing is allowed.

They finally call the magic words, - “Robert Langellier” - and you step up to the throne, where you find that your supervision fee is slightly more costly than you were expecting (by $80). Good. On the 4 hour drive back to the college courses you’ve missed that day, you can contemplate the extra course you get to take now, one that will provide you with 0 learning opportunities, 0 opportunities for your future, and 0 enjoyment opportunities. But come November 30th, you’ll be done with all this. You’ll have mailed your Certificate of Completion back to Room 402 of 200 S. 9th Street, along with a check worth two and a half weeks of a college job.
And all you wanted to do was see Conor’s pretty face before you went to bed one night. I knew this was somehow his fault.

(End note: I was really torn between the ending I chose and finishing with “Fuck tha po.” I have some regrets.)

Adventures in the Labyrinth Part 2: Real Talk

--Robert Langellier

There was just no room for scrawlings of social discontent on my post above, so I decided to post twice! Take that, last week! This second post would be a great read for those bored in traffic court, if only they allowed reading.

Anyway, court makes me angry! Grr! In my opinion, the judicial system of processing…well, anything (especially the itty bitty infractions) has become a joke. Judging guilt or innocence in America is based on knowing all the facts and balancing them on a preset and complex moral scale, a well-intentioned process in theory. Gray area, though, is the bane of the moral scale. This defendant needs a jury - It will take months to assemble an impartial one! This victim was given different reparations than that one; what if they find out? How do you convict a man of murder when he fired the bullet with a second gun pointed at his own head? How do you ticket a speeder trying to get their kid to the hospital before he throws up again or passes out? Is that rapist accountable for his actions if he has a mental disorder? There's obviously a million scenarios like this where the moral lines are less than clear.

Nothing can be subjective in the court of law, and so everyone must be treated more or less as documents until everyone can officially be the same and gray area can be systematically destroyed. For every hint of question, there must be 2 bylaws to categorize it, each with 2 pages of size 2 fine print to cover any possible loopholes (in Helvetica of course; serifs space the letters out too much). Pretty soon you have the caricature we have today: an ever-expanding monster of legal babble and empty ritual trying to justify every possible outcome for every possible scenario in a state of 13 million citizens, or a country of 3 hundred million inhabitants. A common trial will take at least a half a year to get going. Like said, all in good theory, but in practice the intent quickly disassembles itself. When I was a baby I learned that my little square toys just wouldn’t fit in that round hole, no matter how hard I tried. I don’t believe you can squeeze something as fundamentally subjective as moral code into an objective frame without warping the borders a bit.

I wish I had a better alternative. Since I don’t I’m just a childish complainer ripping out the rotting beams of an old building without replacing them; I don’t actually have anything productive to offer. Thank god for free speech, right?