Thursday, June 23, 2011

Regular Blog Post

by Brendan Cavanagh

When I'm not working, I spend a lot of time lounging on my couch watching TV. At the beginning of the summer, I tried to educate / entertain myself by watching a lot of TCM- vintage Westerns, obscure foreign films, classic American cinematic staples, etc. But as of late, the amount of time I allow myself of watch TV has dwindled, as I'm picking up more hours at work and becoming bored much easier. Therefore, I've stuck with television shows that pack more entertainment into smaller increments of time. Also they have to be funny. So where else do I look to find these programs? The "kids" channels, of course!

What is it about Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network that makes them enjoyable for children and young adults alike? Perhaps it's nostalgia, becoming increasingly pronounced in our generation and the one preceding ours. Or maybe we know that children's programming was much better in our childhood than in years before, causing our once-favorite shows to preserve themselves in timeless entertainment. Or maybe, now that we're older, we understand some of the more adult jokes or find appreciation for inappropriate jokes and subtleties that are hidden in the scripts.

I used to watch Spongebob Squarepants a lot, and I liked it for several years, but I remember growing out of it at some point, thinking it was too immature and annoying for my tastes. But now I munch on episodes every morning instead of eating breakfast. I like that as the series progresses, the episodes become much more fast-paced and illogical, with arbitration and unintelligible jokes around every corner. Now that the show's been on for, like, thirteen years, it's become clear that the show's writers cannot continue to rehash the same scenes and storylines because even the littlest of children will recognize its repetition and lack of inventiveness. While the length of a television program can be a crippling detriment to the show, the writers of Spongebob have figured out how to expand their universe and try new things given what characters and settings and such that they have. For instance, one of my favorite episodes details the mysterious disappearance of everyone in Bikini Bottom, leaving Spongebob stranded alone in the city. While at first taking advantage of his new found freedom (the spongey menace to the road gives himself a boating license), he soon becomes aware that he is being stalked by his boat, and the episode, like many since, takes on a surreal tone as Spongebob becomes more and more mentally unstable. Or today, Spongebob got a song stuck in his head and went insane after too long. We can relate to that, right?

Another show I'm growing to like a lot is on Cartoon Network, a cesspool of bizarre shows that seem totally inappropriate and psychotic for children. Watching those shows is like suffering two fifteen-minute periods of epilepsy. But this one show, Regular Show, is hilarious. It follows the professional lives of a group of animals and...monsters and...things that work at a small-town park. We have:

Mordecai & Rigby - a blue jay and a raccoon, respectively. Two slacker groundskeepers who seem to mess up every single task they're assigned

Benson - a living gumball machine, also the park manager. Kind of the Squidward to Mordecai and Rigby's Spongebob and Patrick

Skips - a deadpan yeti who doles out sound advice as often as he works out (a lot). Also, despite his gruff and tough demeanor, he skips girlishly instead of running.

Pops - an anthropomorphic lollipop with a British accent. He is super naive and flitty, but provides some of the funniest scenes in the show, like when Mordecai walks in on him naked. Very realistic and uncomfortably funny.

Muscle Man & High-Five Ghost - the other groundskeeping duo. A short, Frankenstein-looking character and his high-fiving ghost friend (reeeaally?). Muscle Man is obnoxious and crude and often busts out with a "My Mom!" joke, confusing his jokes with "Your Mom!"

I have a penchant for surreal kids' shows, like The Adventures of Pete & Pete of the 90s or Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, in a addition to the aforementioned shows in the blog. But in a way, I don't think they're really just for kids. They deal with themes that can be foudn in adult life, or even if they don't, their writers find ways to slip in jokes only the generation older will understand, so it's cool to go back to the same show you watched as a kid and discover new things about it, like listening to the same musician or album in a totally new and profound way.

Being boy

The three of them move in a swirl around the keen brick-patterned pavement, shuffling their feet at what they'd call a run, and losing control of their vocal chords — due in part to the harsh disruption caused by their pace and in part to the ecstasy they don't even realize they're feeling. Of all the wealth smeared around the Illini Country Club today, any eyewitness will inform you; the ones living it up the most were under the age of seven.

One, to the naked eye, dons a Batman shirt. Another pound-for-pound champion grits her teeth and growls so ferociously her diaper-equipped swimsuit nearly bursts. The third, the team's leader, patrols his troops as they employ (giant) leaves for cover to make a move on the base of whomever. Little do we know, the first isn't merely commercializing the Dark Knight, he is Batman, or so he tells my co-worker Brita. The reason for the team's mission is simple: dinner is boring. The outcome of the operation is staggering: pure, sweet, holy innocence — on display in front of the most primped and toxic crowd in town.

That isn't to say these kids were causing mayhem at a packed restaurant; they weren't. There were maybe three or four other occupied tables at the time, but these kids put on a show. And I — manning my post at the tiki bar awaiting 40 men to finish a round of golf — had the best seat in the house. At first the parents in the situation acted, perhaps as they should have, against the three children, spouting empty threats and offering inconsequential countdowns. Eventually though, the urge to unwind prevailed. They let the kids do their own thing for a while, as long as they weren't crowding anyone else's space.

Meanwhile, these two boys began falling deep into their imaginations and the girl (the youngest of the three) followed blindly while working to enjoy herself as much as possible. Before long, the adults revert their attention to the lot and observe an unprovoked bliss. Instead of inhibiting their children, they reached for their cameras. They wanted to capture the moment. If only.

The kids strutted their stuff and began to show off with wild antics as my manager comes outside to talk to a nearby couple to make sure they weren't pestered. Eventually the digital version of this phenomenon is sufficiently chronicled and the kids wound down a bit before the group leaves. These are the kind of nights that, as a kid, you forget about, until you see someone else doing it when the world comes back around.

When I was a kid, I was adventurous. Sufficiently rambunctious, I was a leader to an extent and a follower to some degree. In other words, I was a boy. I did stuff I was told not to. I came home with dirty feet. I went out the next day with dirty feet. I liked bugs, I liked digging. I liked trees, I wanted a house in one. I feared strangers and craved the unknown, I prepared for the worst with the utmost confidence that I could get out of it. I ate clover, I sold lemonade, I plotted, I carried out, I lied, I cheated, I stole, I broke, I fell, I cried, I came home and I lived to fight another day.

But today I stood still. Today I wore a nametag. Today I sold things for someone else to profit from, unlike that lemonade Pam and I cooked up way back when. Today, in my uniform, I watched someone else lead a carefree life while I pondered how I would be getting home from work. I became envious of the legs Batman was running around on; they were so tiny, at their thickest point the width of my wrist. More importantly, they were going to get so much bigger. I'd be willing to bet he wished he were my size. I bet he envies all the cool teenager stuff I do. And I envied that fact about him. More than anything, I wanted to be an old man and tell him how much I envied him. How he should appreciate being young, and that his whole life was ahead of him. As if, somehow, he would hear the words differently than I did when I was that age.

Every boy at some point figures out they're going to grow up. We see the fiction in Peter Pan and begin placing direction in our lives. Others do it for us, too. Because well, unfortunately we need it. Schools, churches, friends and family all start providing living standards we can't choose. That direction takes us away from our innocence, burying our creative instincts, so that we have to dig for them if we wish to use them later in life. Some are good at digging them up, and others have them shallowly buried, but if you think you can think like a kid, you're wrong. Because I said so, if you will.

Every guy wants to be Atticus Finch, with a steel nerve and a perfected moral code. To understand how kids think, even as an adult. We want to have good values, and know how to instill them into our children. There is something so fulfilling in teaching. Just the feeling that you've provided another person or group of people with helpful tools and information, it's enough to get high off. But some things you just can't teach, and being a child is one of them.

Today I remembered how to be a kid. If only I could remember how to have the time.

--Eliot Sill 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mada- Pianos and ho's

Whenever my mother talks about my piano lessons she has one story she likes to tell over and over again. I've heard it at least two dozen times at this point and it has never changed (unlike the majority of her stories). In her mind it is a story of how much I dreamed of being a pianist before I could even read, to me it is a story of how much I wanted to be exactly like my sisters, I guess you can decide:

(Apparently) when I was three years old I used to watch with mouth agape and eyes wide whenever my sisters would practice piano. I would listen them struggle through their first scales and work through elementary lesson books like it was Rachmaninoff's prelude in c# minor. Then, whenever the piano was free I would run into the study and "compose" contemporary experimental sounding pieces. Soon I was (apparently) begging my mom on a regular basis to please please please sign me up for piano lessons. All I wanted were lesson books of my own. She would then tell me that I was too young for lessons. I wasn't allowed to take piano lessons until I could read. Well then can I learn to read? would be my next question. Once you are four years old. (This next part is her favorite). I became so obsessed with these answers that on the morning of my fourth birthday I ran into my parents' room before anyone was awake, shook my mom and asked "Now that I'm four can I learn to read so I can play the piano??"

Adorable, no?

Well of course I finally learned to read and soon I was on my way once a week with my two sisters to our routine piano lessons. I had my own books and a little journal with my assignments written in it. Dream come true! Over the next 8 years or so I developed a love-hate relationship with this giant instrument. I hardly practiced, hated metronomes and yet I still managed to pull off those stupid gold cup awards. Starting in eighth grade I started going to Piano camp at the University of Illinois and I switched to a new piano teacher: Jean Vitale. After that point I never looked back.

I still didn't practice much and metronomes are an acquired taste but I honestly loved playing the piano. I loved analyzing pieces and getting into arguments with my teacher about how things should be played, down to the tiniest trill. I loved learning anything loud or fast or beautiful. I just loved all the possibilities that could come out of this big wooden box with metal inside.

I would say this relationship climaxed my senior year of high school. This is the year that I earned my fourth and final gold cup, played a senior recital and had hour long discussions with Jean Vitale about life, Gershwin and the possibility of being a music major. She thought that the way I looked at music and pieces was absolutely perfect for teaching, and that if I didn't pursue this it would be a waste. Despite my better judgment, this argument almost swayed me. I even went as far as playing a couple of college auditions at small schools before I realized I could never make this passion a living. It would ruin piano for me and I valued success and power too much to settle for being a pretty good pianist that played odd jobs and taught lessons. Truth is, I was good but not good enough to be a concert pianist, and anything less than that would be a disappointment in my mind. I ended up settling on a math degree at a big school hoping to keep piano as a healthy hobby.

A couple of months ago Jean Vitale died. She was very old and had very fast acting cancer. At this point I hadn't seen her or really thought about her in months but it still hit me pretty hard. When I really thought about it I realized that she was the person I had been the closest to to ever die in my life. She was eccentric and harsh, but she was a mentor. I had valued her opinion above most and had spent hours sitting on her piano bench discussing composers and high school and car accidents. When I went to her visitation I was greeted by her daughter who pulled me aside to tell me just how much I had meant to her mother. Jean had talked about me all the time and I had really had an affect on her by the time I graduated. I had no idea what to say. I just nodded, mumbled a thanks and walked away. In the background music was playing an upon further concentration I realized it was a recording of her former students at recitals. Eventually a recording of me playing Grieg's prelude in e minor, second movement (the one she told me would never be concert ready because I never practiced and the begrudgingly agreed to let me perform). The weirdest part of this was that no one else had any idea that I was the person on the recording. I was standing there at this visitation, listening to myself play the piece this dead woman had taught me and everyone else just thought it was background music. This is when death became real to me.

Nowadays I play piano a couple times a week. First I try things from memory and realize I can't remember anything past the first page. Then I take out the music and slowly work through the runs and chords I used to have in muscle memory. I still get joy from this but I wish I played more. I rarely think about Jean Vitale but when I do I wonder whether I made the right choice with my major. Then I remember that the world isn't run by sensitive bullshit. But I suppose my one hope is that that never ceases to disappoint me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nick - Injustice

There was a puddle here before the sun came up, but in the blistering heat all that I see is hot yellow sand. The sand reflects the brightness of the sun toward my eyes, causing me to squint as I claw pathetically searching for any remaining trace of water.

I used to live by a philosophy.

I'm sheriff of a small desert town. Rather, I was sheriff of a small desert town. Now I'm a prisoner to the desert itself, and my town is miles away, in what direction I don't know. But I can never go back there now. I need to face my fate out here, and take it like a man.

I remember vividly the day of my appointment. It was a hot day. I was working out in the yard when the mayor, a personal friend of mine, asked me personally if I would take on the responsibility. The old sheriff had been shot in the night, he said. It was a dangerous job, he said. I responded with the philosophy I lived by; the one that my father had repeated when I was small.

"Justice is the pillar we all stand on," he said, "injustice needs to be punished."

I was motivated by an inhuman zeal. Maybe I was clinging to what I knew. Maybe that statement had taken such thorough hold of me that I couldn't think of anything else. Or maybe it was just my way of expressing grief for my deceased father. But I took that statement to heart, and did my best to cage anyone who took so much as a step out of line.

This continued for years. I was paid barely any, but I took my job more seriously than my own life. The mayor began to grant me money to enlarge the jail and hire a deputy.

Then one day my wife fell sick. So sick, in fact, that I couldn't get to work for the better part of three days. I felt cornered; I didn't have the money to find a doctor. I had stopped raising chickens when I took the job as sheriff, so I had nothing to trade for the service of a doctor.

And then one day the mayor stopped in to visit her. He pulled me aside. Told me what good work I had been doing. How he hated to see me stuck inside like this.

"Use some of the money." He said, "to find a doctor. The price is nothing compared to the money you've been granted to build a new jail, and it's going to a good cause."

That seemed reasonable to me. But in retrospect, that moment planted the seed of my undoing.

When my second child was born, I used some of the money to buy a larger house. And then a new horse when mine died. Even though my pay was raised enough to live substantially, I continued to expand my living outside my means. Before I knew what had happened, I was living well, all on money that was supposed to be going elsewhere.

When the mayor died, a new mayor was appointed. And his first act of business was pointing out the discrepancies in my account. Finally I realized: In my mad pursuit of justice, I had trampled on its very foundations, putting the money of the town into my own pocket. The townspeople would have revolted, given this information. But they never got the chance. I fled in the night, into the desert, to let myself slowly die as all of my prisoners slowly die in their cells.

This is a fitting punishment for my greed. As I starve out here, drenched in sweat, I always repeat to myself in the back of my head that I deserve it.

Injustice needs to be punished.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Those Tulips

Robert Langellier

From the smooth surface of the tilted floor mirror came the regular dissatisfaction Damien had come to expect.

His short brown hair was thick, but there was never anything he was able to do with it. Again he rubbed down the rebel strands in his crown with his palm, but again it refused to bend at his will. His fingernails were too long, he noticed; he’d have to cut them soon today, or people might comment. To the left of his head in the reflection Damien could see the bay window overlooking his cluttered work desk.

Out the window stood a great old tulip tree in Damien’s side yard. Some of the ancient low branches that poked out into view at the top of the window were rotting out; some had already broken or weathered away.  In addition, the aging tree had seen many years of aphids that had slowly eaten away at it. Many of its leaves were withered and spotted sickly brown as a result. Its tulips, however, remained unaffected and beautiful. Damien thought that the golden yellow and orange tulips kept the tree more alive in a way like a street musician can make the urban poor look romantic. Indeed, to the naked eye, the tulip looked magnificent from any considerable distance, the standout feature of his three-acre plot, and many a suburban family would note its splendor on its drive to work and school. Those tulips were truly something to be admired, everyone would say. The tree kept countless memories of Damien’s childhood, from failed attempts at tree houses by a clueless father to the time Damien’s youthful weight broke an entire limb and an ankle in full view of his extended family as they waited for a Thanksgiving dinner long past. Yet the old tree was hollowed out in various areas for birds seeking refuge from the blistering Midwest weather. It was dying, and it would only be around for a few more years, despite how gorgeous its tulips.

Damien drew his focus closer and looked at his work desk. Papers were piled around, strewn about everywhere, some finished, some nearly finished. Somewhere in the chaotic mess, there was a grand organization that only Damien could comprehend. His work ethic was furious, and despite his apparent lack of organization, he was able to able to churn through research and piece information together like no one else his advertising firm had ever seen. Damien was truly the top of his game. He graduated from Columbia University with high honors and a Master’s degree in strategic communication before settling in for sales work at Manitobas. Damien quickly scaled the corporate ladder working unheard-of hours and brownnosing the executive board. In his first year in the company he became the youngest person to win a Grand Clio advertising award for his print and design campaign for Kleenex brand. Damien, by most respects, was one of the hottest names in American advertising, and he was vocally expected by his peers to become a major innovator in the changing future of Internet advertising.

Damien looked back at himself in the mirror. A well shaped jaw line, bright blue eyes with abnormally long lashes, and baby smooth skin stared him back. He had a shining celebrity smile probably worth about three swooning compliments on any given weekend night. He was almost perfect in appearance. He glanced down at his Blackberry to view his schedule. Like any day, it was spilling with an impossible number of appointments, meetings, and interviews, enough to drive out any sane man from the business. But Damien was a different creature; his blood ran a bit different, or faster, than everyone else’s. He was a dynamo. Yes, unstoppable. He was so indispensable at Manitobas that the firm would have collapsed without his sole saving weight under it.

Damien narrowed his eyes and looked a little bit closer in the reflection, to his leather briefcase sitting rigidly beside his desk chair, poised for action. He had bought that suitcase on his last vacation, in Martinique when he was only 17. Had he known then that it was to be his last vacation in over a decade, he would have never purchased the suitcase at all, he told himself. He missed the freedom of bare feet on wet sand, of a soft breeze sent by some force greater than his Mazda’s air conditioner. He remembered his journals from his youth and his wide-eyed questions for a world of possibilities and opportunities, and he missed them. But there in the large, furnished room, there was little that could speak of these elusive wisps of memory. There were no paintings, no hangings on the wall at all, no window view of any landscape beyond his freshly-cut yard except that of an endless pattern of identical, stately houses.

In the reflection, Damien looked all around the rest of the room. It seemed empty, although it was neatly decorated with wood furniture and drawers. Suddenly, he smelled the mahogany, and it trapped him. The scent carried the breath from his lungs, and he felt highly claustrophobic even in the open room. He wanted out. Needed. The scent of mahogany left him. The smell of ocean spray splashed against his nostrils. There was nothing like it, no, nothing as beautiful. Damien darted his gaze in the reflection to his eyes and pinned it there. He knew he wasn’t cut out for this work; no one was. No man alive was prepared to handle the mountains of work he regularly buried his desk in every day. He was still young. He wondered how much longer he could actually continue like this…He felt as if he was eating his own life away obsessively. Damien returned his sight to the background, and he could see in vivid color the brown spots on his desk. They appeared to be growing. Damien remembered his journals from his youth again, and he remembered how wrong his life had become, how consumed upon itself it was. He was not a 15-hour workday, he swore, no. Or interviews, he was not the 50-some interviews that he needed to conduct over the course of the next two weeks for his current project. He was not his work. No man alive, he relinquished, can bury his desk in paperwork without keeping a piece of himself hidden, too. He needed out. He needed freedom, to show the world what lied beneath the accolades and the business cards. His briefcase fell from its upright position and crashed against the floor.

Damien jerked his eyes from the mirror, turned, and snapped back to attention. He walked into the bathroom and splashed a cupped handful of frigid water over his face. His eyes in the mirror had a new focus. He blinked twice, and stood up straight. There was work to be done. He confidently walked back from his bathroom to his desk chair, and he lifted and clicked open his briefcase. That work ethic was something to be admired, everyone would say.

The phone rang. Damien answered.

“Hi Ms. Enders, thanks for calling me back so quickly. Do you mind if I ask you some brief interview questions? It will only take a moment.”

Some Favorites of Mine

Sort of like Nick's post about stuff he hates, but the opposite. I've been doing family stuff for most of the day so this is sort of rushed. Sue me.

Movie - I have 2, mainly because they're completely different genres. Apples and oranges, if you will. One is The Boondock Saints. It's an action movie, but I love it for the mood it sets. Basically, it's about two bad ass Irish mofos who take it upon themselves to eradicate all the criminals they can get their hands on. It just gets my blood pumping. It's one of those movies where your inclined to laugh when the bad guys get what's coming to them in the form of twin handguns to the back of the head. The other movie is The Princess Bride. It's a classic, and I find it no less hilarious every time I watch it. It's full of sharp wit and quirkiness, and I love it.

Video Game - Ocarina of Time. A flawless rpg for the N64. I would change nothing about it. Even though the Water Temple is tedious as tits, I wouldn't have it any other way. It makes it that much more rewarding. From the revolutionary Z-targetting system to the plethora of little side missions you can do to the kick ass bosses, I can never get enough of this game. Play this game (Caitlin and Conor). I will play this as soon as I get this blog out of the way. The opening sequences keep replaying before my eyes even as I write.

Pie - Cherry. 'Nuff said.

Color - Purple. Gengar is purple. Royalty is purple. Every cool villain has a purple aura of some sort.

Game system - NES

Book - Sword of Truth series. Lauren and Jenni know whaddup.

*Looks around the room desperately for more things to deem favorites...*

Action hero(s) - TMNT

Top instruments I want to learn to play/be good at, in order - my voice?, guitar, piano/keys, drums, harmonica

Favorite video game character - lol are you kidding me?

Favorite mood- rebellious

Favorite word - serendipitous...when do I ever get to use this? Curse you and your boring use of vocab, world!

Favorite part of this blog post - THE END