Thursday, November 26, 2015

Pointed criticism

On this occasion, I'm grateful for the Old Sacramento Underground Tours.

They're great — full of little stories, well told, all adding up to one unlikely story of how a city at the center of the Gold Rush overcame one really bad decision through the force of its collective stubbornness.

I'm not just saying so because I manage the Underground Tour program, or because I've been a guide since it began six years ago. Or maybe I am; I'm part of the program because I love it. The tour began with a well crafted guidebook, inspiring guides to spin the facts into the little-known tale of Sacramento's beginning, each from their own perspectives.

Guides have brought their own passion for research, which has helped the tour unveil new facts as they arise. It evolves and gets better. Last year, 20,000 people went on the Underground Tour, and the program is expanding to a newly revamped walking tour about Sacramento's Gold Rush role, and an after-hours tour with adult content.

We're pretty good at what we do. There, I said it.

So I had to laugh when I read this online review about the tour:
"It was horrible I'd rather stab a fork in my eyes than do that again."
This was from the tour program's facebook™® page. Guides more talented than I have made the program better in other realms, including marketing and raising our profile on social media.

I check in to the page, whenever I remember how. facebook®© also alerts me to new activity on the tour program's page.

The only thing I could think to do with this review is send it out to the guides, mostly for a laugh. Otherwise, I don't know what to make of it. The reviewer doesn't elucidate, doesn't say why one fork in both eyes (if I read it accurately) would be better than taking a tour again; doesn't say which tour, or which guide; otherwise we could adapt to this positive feedback.

It could have been any guide, any tour, which is why we sent out to guides.

We can't, and don't, please everybody. Nor can anyone. Sometimes a visitor lets on that he or she thought the Underground comprised caverns, with stalactites and stalagmites; sometimes a visitor will complain online that the Underground is just basements, and I have to confess they're right; but that's where the guides' gift of storytelling kicks in, to explain that they're not just basements, but the spaces where the entire city used to be.
(We still suffer from an identity crisis in our corner of Old Sacramento; our museum is surrounded on two sides by the much larger and wonderful California State Railroad Museum, and many people walk past the great big signs and banners and actual entrance for the railroad museum, into our museum, and still ask if this is the railroad museum.

(Recently a man bought admission to the history museum and asked if we still have Indian stuff. Yes, on the third floor, I answered, referring to the display about this region's native cultures. Forty minutes later the man returned to the front desk. "I thought you said there was engine stuff," he said, and I realized I had misheard his question. I also realized why he pulled such a strange face when he imagined gargantuan steam-powered train engines somehow on the third floor.

(But I digress.)
I'd wager most visitors like the tours. I'll also say the tour program is always eager to make the tours better by force of story or new display innovations.

But I'm not sure that online review always help. This is just me talking, but I'm not a fan of online reviews. Too many reviewers are poorly informed about subjects I know about, which makes me distrust others' reviews for things I don't know about. I'm not going to follow their advice.

Opinions about movies, music and entertainments such as tours are sooooo subjective. One person's viewpoint usually does not overlay another's world view; your preference is probably irrelevant to mine. You likely will not like what I like.

Some online reviewers just want to cause damage, for whatever reason, not just for the Underground Tour but just about anything. Pick anything being reviewed through social media, and you're bound to find reviews posted for no other reason than sabotage and spite.

We're happy to hear what people think would make the tour better; I'm not so deluded to think we've created the perfect tour. We can be better, and we work toward that.

I hope you can the tour and let us know what you think. I'll hide the forks.

Peaceful Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

You don't say

I have failed.

Sure, I've saved lives, ended war, salved pain, cured disease. It's not enough.

Such trifles! Especially compared to my utter embarrassing impotence to stop people from saying stupid things. More precisely, I can't prevent supposedly smart people from saying really dumb things that I guess are supposed to make them sound smart.

I couldn't then and I can't now. I've tried; no use.

This has become a virus unchecked, a hideous phenomenon continuing to worm its way onto our tongues. Before we know it, it will seem perfectly normal. People will say to one another, "This is an entirely reasonable way for us to talk, going forward."

If you don't recognize the point of stupidity in this comment, you have already been infected. You will be saying "going forward," going forward, for the rest of your days.

Going forward.

"You know" has nothing on "going forward." "You know" has become merely a sound, a marker, giving the speaker a chance to gather thoughts that had wandered off from that moment, and the listener time to rest and prepare to process the newly herded thoughts.

There was a time, perhaps, in which a speaker said, "You know," and the listener actually did know: The two proto-communicators were talking about something that was obvious to each other.

Over time it became, you know, a thing. Just filler, almost unheard. You know?

"Going forward" will go that route too. We'll become numb to it, just another new-age "uh."

It defies gravity and sense, persisting, for some lame reason, like sagging pants on teenage boys.

It's obvious what "going forward" means: Moving into the future. Duh!

The question is, do you need to say it?

The answer: No. Make that, Hell no!

Unless time travel has become a common means of transportation in the two years since I first heard this phrase get regular play — and no one informed me, you selfish pigs! — "going forward" need go nowhere.

If time travel does exist, we may need "going forward" to indicate which direction in time we are discussing. But — cancel that! — we already have verb tenses to perform that function. Never mind.

"Going forward" has one legitimate use, as in, "I'm going forward with the divorce." Or some such thing. One is proceeding with an action.

As misused now — widely, vastly, almost universally misused — "going forward" always accompanies, in the same sentence, an already useful time reference, such as a verb tense, to indicate events that will take place sometime after now. "Going forward" is implied! "Going forward" does not reinforce the meaning of future events already described in the sentence containing "going forward."

It is the fattiest of fats, needless.

Yet, there it remains.

Actually, I've only heard newspeople, and the people newspeople talk to, use "going forward." I've never heard an actual everyday non-newsmaker misuse "going forward." I suppose I might hear "going forward" from a boss or director at a business meeting; I'm glad I've never been invited to such a meeting.

I might hear it there, as I hear it on the news, because the misusers seem to think it adds heft to what they're saying. I wish the misusers would instead hear how stupid they sound. I wish we would tell them. It'll hurt their feelings at first, but they'll get over it and be better for our help.

Last week, I heard National Public Radio host Ari Shapiro use "going forward" twice in a 5-minute, 14-second report (about a woman who is black in Santa Monica, Calif., locked herself out of her apartment, hired a locksmith, and then was visited by 19 police officers, at least two with guns drawn, on a neighbor's tip that she was breaking into her own apartment; an interesting story, as are online comments — but I digress).

Shapiro used two "going forwards" 1 minute and 7 seconds apart, to make the same point:
You write that this has changed your relationship with police going forward. You see police officers and feel differently than you used to. Tell us more about that.
and then:
here's a police interaction that has kind of forever changed your attitude towards law enforcement going forward.
Remove "going forward" from each instance, and the meaning of the sentences change not one iota. "Going forward" goes nowhere, takes us nowhere, wastes a whole second of our life and our respect for the speaker. Or should, anyway.

Shapiro also says "towards," but don't get me started about that misuse.

Phrases like that just crop up in the effervescence that is our language, a tiny bit of the new language being good. Phrases get started by someone who thinks it's clever, whom other people think are clever, and use it for their own, however stupid it is.

On ESPN, the sports network, hosts still say, after all these years, "Let us welcome in our college football analyst," or "We welcome you in to SportsCenter.®™" Why in? Why not just welcome? Do they ever welcome out guests? Maybe "welcome over" if the guest is out of camera range, but in is out. Memo to ESPN and all the regional wannabe sports talk shows inspired by ESPN: Stop it.

Last week after the terrorist attacks in Paris, one of their correspondents kept talking about fears of a "follow-on" attack, and the show host took up the phrase. Yeah, it's a real phrase, as in: it's in dictionaries. But why talk like the assistant junior head chief of security, where jargon just can't be helped? Why not use regular-person words, easily understandable time-tested words such as "subsequent" or "second" or "another?"

Following on, you may notice newspeople like to say things such as "they have optics on the target" rather than, "they're watching the target," because they're impressed by some spokesman for whom talking in a normal way is not high priority, and their strange talk rubs off. Newspeople and those they interview also like to say they have "metrics," when they mean measurements or data.

Politicians and political analysts like to start sentences with, "Look," by which I infer, "I know what's what, even if you and I know I'm telling a lie."

More and more people on the news begin answers to questions with, "So …" Someone said interviewed scientists are more likely to do this, but I have no way of knowing. I do hear it more and more, and it always sounds like the speaker is in the middle of a story and forgot to tell us the first half.

My wife grates at newspeople who say "expecially" instead of "especially."

Make it stop. 

Stop, especially, saying "going forward," if that is your habit. It's a bad habit and you need help. No one is impressed by your use of it, or shouldn't be, anyway. Unless you practice time travel; but again, verb tenses! Already available! Brush up on your conjugations. Save yourself valuable seconds you could spend mucking about in the 23rd Century or preempting the Black Plague.

I fear the worst, though. Right as I write this, NPR reports the story of Salt Lake City's first openly gay (is this phrase, too, overused?) mayor, presiding in a city where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has its headquarters. The Mormon Church earlier this month announced a policy that adult Mormons in same-sex relationships and marriages face disciplinary action from the church, and some children of same-sex couples in the church may not be able to be baptized there.

Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who is not Mormon, said she plans to meet with Mormon Church leaders about church policy and diversity in the city.

The NPR show host read a statement from a spokesperson for the Mormon Church:

"We look forward to working closely with Mayor Biskupski and her administration, going forward."

See? Now it's canon. With two "forwards" in one sentence, you really can't get much more forward thinking than that.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Because there are no reasons

My first memory of Del Paso Heights, driving to the elementary school
to meet the secretaries and get my class list.
Overshadowed by the Western world's very bad day last Friday, was a very bad day for Sacramento.

Overshadowed, but not eclipsed.

Just hours after the massacre in Paris, a kid in Sacramento named Jaulon "JJ" Clavo was shot to death.

Clavo had left Grant Union High School with four teammates for an after-school meal at a nearby Popeye's restaurant.

A senior, Clavo was to start at cornerback that evening for the Grant High Pacers, a longtime football powerhouse, in a playoff game against another powerhouse, Beyer of Modesto.

Grant was to host Beyer at its home field, in the neighborhood known as Del Paso Heights.

Someone shot JJ Clavo as the car he was driving stopped at an intersection headed back to school, about a mile away. Another teammate in the car was shot in the arm.

News reports say it's unknown if the gunshots came from another car, or from someone on foot.

The shooter is still at large.

Somehow the teammates raced back to the school for help, but Clavo later died.

The game was postponed. Del Paso Heights grieves still. A bad day became worse.

It's hard not to make JJ Clavo a symbol. He was a kid, just a kid — just a smiling, upbeat, helpful kid, by the news accounts. He was one of 14 teenagers shot and killed this year in Sacramento County.

He was a senior looking ahead, maybe to college and maybe playing football there, maybe the military. The Saturday before, he had taken the SAT.

The photos of him used in news reports are from his senior portraits, including him in a tuxedo, posing in casual clothes, smiling in his Grant blue cap and gown. Sacramento Kings player DeMarcus Cousins offered to pay funeral expenses; he tried to do it quietly, but word got out.

Clavo was killed, his promise was killed for no good reason, because there are no reasons, and his death tore a wound of sorrow in his community.

I have been in that community, teaching in Del Paso Heights for a year-and-a-half, and driving by Grant High at least twice a week, going there on occasion for school. I was in the community, but not of the community; but I was trying to be, trying to be a teacher for children in Del Paso Heights, seven miles and a world away from where I live.

Del Paso Heights, north of downtown Sacramento, struggles with crime and violence. Police, according to news reports, say violent crime has spiked in some Del Paso neighborhoods.

On bright late-summer days, weeks before I was to begin teaching third grade at Del Paso Heights Elementary, I felt no reason to be afraid. I was checking off my list of students, arranging to visit their homes and introduce myself, tell families what they could expect from me and what I hoped their children could achieve in our class.

I visited families in their neat chainlink-fenced lots with brightly painted ceramic suns hanging on the wall in the front porch, in drafty mid-century bungalows in need of repair, in small apartments, and out in the yard in front of homes.

Later, mid-way through the school year during a casual conversation, the principal learned what I had done over the summer said I shouldn't have gone into the neighborhoods by myself.

I think of those third graders often, wonder how they're getting on and hope they're succeeding and learning, mostly despite me as a rookie teacher, but maybe a tiny part because of me. They would be in 10th grade now, and most would probably be going to Grant High; I look in the paper every once in a while for a name I might recognize.

Maybe they had been wearing the school's blue and gold in anticipation of last Friday's game.

Grant rallied. The postponed game was played Monday, and players from surrounding high schools showed up in their school jerseys, to pay their respects to JJ Clavo and his mother, and the Grant Pacers.

Grant beat Beyer of Modesto 35-0, and will play Granite Bay this weekend. A blood drive in JJ Clavo's honor will take place at Grant High Dec. 1.

The killing must stop! say Grant High leaders and community organizers and JJ's mother, and the police, and I agree, from my comfortable place seven miles away. It is something the community says after every senseless killing, though I don't say anything because it doesn't make front-page, top-of-the-hour news.

Maybe in Jaulon "JJ" Clavo, who could not be protected even by the refuge of camaraderie and discipline and pride of the Grant Pacers football program — one upbeat kid killed on a day the world had gone madder still — can move people from the comfort of distance to support those calling for, needing, deserving change.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Mr. Zero-sum Game, that's me.

I cancel myself out. If anything, I do far more harm to my world than good.

My carbon footprint makes Sasquatch's look like Tinkerbell's.

All this car pooling I do, all this allowing of lawn to brown and die, and dumping of buckets of shower water beneath thirsty trees, is folly in the face of all the trees I demand be killed to slake my thirst for paper towels.

Must have paper towels! And napkins! And Kleenex®™ Brand tissues! Former trees of all manufacture! Die! Die! Die, so that I may blow my nose and dry my hands!

Right now — and I mean any right now that you read this — off-white wads of paper towel bank like suspect snow against my elbows on my desk. They fatten every front pocket of every pair of pants and shorts I own, even the rare few draped over hangers. Some are buried deep in the strata, compressed to the size and finish of almonds in the shell.

Wads are probably not in pants now being washed, but I make no guarantee.

In the leather caddy on my nightstand, where men of refinement would keep their keys and moneyclips and chronometers and cufflinks, I have let a hundred paper towels bloom, their petals held intact by snot and the passage of time. It looks like a meringue pie.

I wouldn't, by the way, eat meringue pie or anything else while reading this.

Wads and wads and wads of paper fill a plastic bag in the corner of my office, an untapped and untappable surplus intended for double duty on dog doody walks.

You don't want to know about my car.

Though I use and reuse these fistfuls of paper detritus — runny nose being a chronic side effect, I think, of cold-water swimming — I still grab a new square of tissue or paper towel — preferring the heft of the latter — when I'm near a dispenser.

Apparently I can't help myself.

And haven't been able to for some time. My parents used to remark on our paper towel use on visits to their home — Nancy uses a lot too, though not nearly as much as me … she's an enabler.

Our dog fishes the wads out of the trash and shreds them to pieces across the floor, to shame me for my profligate ways. Or maybe she likes the taste.

Really, don't eat anything right now.

I have a problem needing professional help. Already three wads of paper towel have made their way into my front pockets, and the sun hasn't even risen today.

Handkerchiefs might work. My dad was a handkerchief guy; guys from my dad's generation are. My tour guide characters carry them, though the guy playing those characters still wads up a napkin alongside. Handkerchiefs, in my twisted and unwell mind, seem more disgusting than paper towels.

But recognizing the problem is half the battle, isn't it? Just this morning I reached for a fresh paper towel from the roll, then stopped, knowing I had now seven wads of towel lodged in pockets.

Excuse me — my nose is running.

I can't write about Paris; I can't say anything more or different than anything already said. I can't be helpful or enlightening. What a horrible, wrenching thing, an abomination; it follows the abominations that went on through the Middle East and Africa the week before, the abominations that have passed largely without our notice until a stunning version of it took place in Paris.

We stand by Paris and we are praying for Paris, and we lower our flags to half staff for Paris, when we wouldn't stand by Beirut or Garissa or Sfax or Mogadishu, because Paris is The City We All Think We'd Love to Visit One Day, and those other places not as much.

Their booms and screams and torrents happen beyond our capacity to care.

Now we go to our horrible and predictable corners. We declare war and wage secret missions. Twenty-four U.S. governors say they will not accept Syrian refugees into their states, because if there's a lesson in interning people of Japanese descent during World War II, it's that all Japanese everywhere carried plans to destroy America. Was that the lesson? It was so long ago.

(Alabama's new motto: Whatever's Latin for "The terrorists have won.")

President-apparent Donald Trump pandered pondered that the massacre wouldn't have happened if everybody had been armed, explaining that bad guys glow a certain color when they're doing bad things, so they're easy to spot and kill in a crowd bristling with guns; no fuss, no muss. Third-time's-the-charm-President Jeb Bush said he'd take in Christian refugees but not Muslims. Revisionist-historian-President Ted Cruz says it's not likely Christians would commit terrorism.

Everybody gets to use religion as a cudgel to justify their actions, as everyone has through history, to hate or compartmentalize or steal or kill. Because your beliefs are inferior and you by extension are worthless. My beliefs say so. Or imply so. What's the difference?

We take for granted what we learn on the news, knowing in the past that authorities have been wrong about what they announce, frequently knowingly and willfully wrong, and what they say may not be what really is, which we learn long after, at great and terrible cost.

We once again become afraid to die and afraid to live.

I can't write about Paris.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fruit of the vindication

Forget politics. Forget child tax credits or the lunatic photo-op of pushing 11 million across the border. Enough but-but-Benghazi! and titanic comb-overs. No more grain-fed Egyptian pyramids. No more about the plain red cups.

Let's focus on what really matters:

I'm right about the folly of wine.

Overwhelming evidence has just come to light — well, this is from May, but I was distracted by all the war and pestilence and refugee crises and other trivia.

Not Vox, the news site where I learned this six months after the fact. Vox had its priorities straight.

Vox has blown the lid off this scandal: People wrongly buy more expensive wine because they think it's better. And it isn't.

I have been trying to warn the world about wine time and again, and I've been marginalized and ignored — mostly ignored — for it.

Maybe nobody took me seriously when I said all wine comes from one municipal tank somewhere near Modesto, and that the flavor and nuance of wine comes from the power of wine servers to suggest this wine tastes different or better than that wine.

But the world is going to listen to me now!

In something called Vox Observatory, Vox reported "Expensive Wine is for Suckers," and had its staff members taste three Cabernet Sauvignon wines, one $8, one $14 and one $43.
The most expensive is a 2011 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley," explained the video voiceover. "Wine Spectator Magazine rated it "Outstanding." And it costs five times more than the ($8) one on the right."
(The video shows Wine Spectator Magazine's 93 out of 100 score for the wine, and its opinion, "Extremely well done for the vintage, with style and panache."
"So," says the narrator, "does it taste five times better?"
Vox staffers gave the same average rating for the cheapest and most expensive wines in this taste test. This is consistent with a 2008 study that compiled more than 6000 blind tastings from 17 events across the United States.
"It found that unless they had undergone wine training, people didn't actually enjoy the taste of expensive wines," said the narrator. "In fact, they enjoyed them slightly less."
See?! Education, man, it's only gonna get you in trouble.

Vox implicates the power of suggestion, specifically the 2004 movie Sideways (great movie, even if you don't like wine; plus, you get to see the places where I grew up, in the proper light), which skyrocketed sales of Pinot Noir over other red wines, based on Paul Giamatti's character's fussy adoration of the variety ("That's 100 percent Pinot Noir. Single vineyard; they don't even make it anymore.").

Conversely, his character's infamous trashing of Merlot damaged sales of that variety.

Who judges what's good in wine? Why, wine judges! But Vox pointed to a study that showed not only are professional judges so inconsistent they cancel out each other, but their awarding of gold medals to wines are statistically no different than the awarding of gold medals by random chance.

Judges aren't even good judges of their own tastes. When some judges were secretly given the same wine to taste three times, only one in 10 gave it the same medal each time, Vox reported.

Not all professional critics from wine publications taste the products blindly, and are privy to the wines' prices. An Australian study Vox cited showed wine tasters consistently preferring the most expensive of wines selected, even though though the creators of the study had been adding acid to the most expensive wine to make it taste worse.

Another study even strapped wine tasters to brain wave machines, and gave them the same wine to drink. When told one of the wine was nine times more expensive than the other, brain wave activity increased in pleasure centers for taste and smell.
"So, expensive wines may taste better after all," said the narrator, "as long as you know they're expensive."
That's not quite the conclusion I draw. I say winemakers use the most cynical selling point — unmitigated profit from arbitrary pricing — to bamboozle wine drinkers, who must. have. their. wine!

I'm not against wine. I don't like it, but I don't care if others do. What I can't stand is the pretense and flim-flam and mind-meld that goes into the selling of wine.

Even wine expert and former Sacramento Bee TV critic Rick Kushman says the fuss over wine is ridiculous.

"There's two things you need to know with wine," Kushman told local public radio yesterday. "How to get the cork out, and which end of the bottle to drink from. After that, it's all minor."

Here's what I want wineries and restaurants to do: Simply give someone a glass of wine. Let the patron drink and enjoy, or not; if the patron wants to know things about the wine — what grape, where grown, how long in the barrel — despite the overwhelming evidence that it's been sitting in a giant tank with all the other wine — then the patron can ask. Otherwise, live and let freaking live.

But enough with the sell job. And enough with the arbitrary prices.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Idiot American

This is more like it: Plenty of information about the designer, Chris Bilheimer,
who has made his mark in a wide array of rock visuals in the last couple of
decades. Usually the part about graphic design is hidden away, as if the
musicians either don't want listeners to know, or want to imply that maybe
the musicians created the art too. This design not only evokes Saul Bass, but
feels like two iterations before the final art, shapes just a tad too awkward
and close together. I would have fussed with it more. But what do I know?
My apologies for submitting the tardiest music review ever.

I like "American Idiot" by Green Day.
(Wait, wasn't that, like, last century?)
OK, you know what? Let's call it a music appreciation instead. I think that's what it's called when no one really wants your opinion of the arts, or when every story has already been written about a recently deceased celebrity, but you write something anyway.

Because I'm not writing this to say you should like it too.

A hater of music reviews, I'm not about to do unto you what I wouldn't want done to me.

Music has to be the most subjective subject there is, rendering music reviews useless to me. No muscle of a writer's description is going to make me buy music, because the writer can't quite qualify why the music appeals.

It could be, and usually is, nothing to do with beat or structure or the front man's voice. It could have everything to do, and usually does, with my geographical and psychological place when I encounter the music.

Music love is an accidental thing. It is snuck upon you while you're doing other things. So it was when I first heard Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" in the days when if you wanted to watch TV, you had to watch what your parents wanted to watch. They wanted to watch something that showcased Copland, and after that I wanted to hear everything else he wrote.

Tom Waits sang my angst over long frustrating winter nights researching a project when I was a newspaper reporter. He always brings me back to those nights.

Caught up in The Colbert Report's final goodbye, I got caught up in "Holland 1945" by Neutral Milk Hotel (album cover art also by Chris Bilheimer), and the possible reason Stephen Colbert chose it as the last sounds we heard.

"Sweet Disposition" by The Temper Trap is a song I never would have come by, except for its use as the soundtrack for the video of a swim in which I got to take part, and the music is ingrained in me.

No music review imploring me to listen to those pieces would have succeeded.

I also understand the irony in linking these songs here, because your music tastes are scattershot, defy reason, and may even be embarrassing, like mine, and you prefer not to be spoon-fed but have the music find you accidentally. But what the heck; the link function is easy and available, so why not use it, am I right?

Our son bought American Idiot when he was in high school. He bought it electronically as a good olf-fashioned CD 11 years ago, from iTunes™® I'm sure. I bought mine 11 years later as I always have, browsing the bins at a used-records store.

I didn't know much about Green Day at the time, but trusted his exploration. I teased that Green Day was part of UBT (Unified Band Theory), my idea that all the music he was listening to came from one band, relabeled and packaged for a different audience, the only tell being the lead singer with the odd Valley-Boy-slightly-Australian pronunciation of certain words.

I'm not Green Day's audience, nowhere close. Even when I fit the demographic long ago, I wasn't into sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. I didn't, and wouldn't, go to concerts.

And yet …

I appreciate what Green Day is saying and playing here. Call it punk-pop (here is where I betray my weakness as a music reviewer, because I don't know what I'm talking about), powerful guitar and explosive drums but with simple, infectious melody.

I appreciate the rage displayed in American Idiot, the anger and pain of suburban kids trying to get through their screwed-up world. The video made for the suite "Jesus of Suburbia,"  (NSFW I guess) doesn't feel like actors playing confused and untethered teenagers, but like real kids opening the dented door to their messed up lives.

I feel their pain, and attach the sound to my own frustrations, however different.

I appreciate the energy with which Green Day delivers its message. YouTube®™ has put me close to the concert stage I wouldn't get near in person, and I get to see the manic drive as Green Day performs, all rockstar poses, windmill arms and ridiculously wide stances and twisted faces. I couldn't tell you whether lead guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre´ Cool are personas or their real selves, or some of both, but they don't hold anything back. You paid your ticket, they're going to give you a show.

American Idiot is written like a rock opera, its songs tracing a story thread of young people in the time of George W. Bush and Iraq War II and the toppling economy, all of its dislocation and anger and hopelessness and redemption and resignation.

Which may be why it's still being performed as an actual rock opera, Green Day having turned its collection into a Broadway musical (where the actors do feel like actors, play-acting as disaffected young people).

The song-story suits me at the moment. The CD rests in my car stereo, ready to blare when National Public Radio recycles a story for the third time, or sports talk radio waxes eloquent about the 3-4 defense. Or when I just want to swing the windmill arms of my mind.

It'll be there until something new accidentally comes along.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Artist's rendering

It came as quite a shock last week when one of open-water swimming's leading voices — and most thoughtful critics — announced he was quitting the sport.

He is Donal Buckley, though most know him as LoneSwimmer, the moniker under which he blogs about everything swimming. Who knew there was so much to say about one subject, but Buckley does did with great energy and eloquence.

An accomplished marathon swimmer, Buckley wrote how-tos about swimming in pools and oceans, reading tides, nutrition for different purposes, training for marathon swims, equipping properly, swimming safely alone, acclimating to cold water, you name it.

He wrote with poignant self-deprecation about his own swimming misadventures, and with piercing scorn about aspects of the sport he found distasteful or dangerous, including the fairly new sport of ice swimming.

He wrote so gorgeously of his home waters off County Cork in southern Ireland that I'm sure swimmers have flocked there to see for themselves. I certainly want to go, based on what he's written.

But last week the swimming writer who tags his blog with "Who dares swims," dares not to swim any more.
"My days of being an open water swimmer are over," Buckley began. "The sea is lost to me now and I don’t think I can ever go back."
I may have given away the reason with my illustration.

Long story short — and you really have to read this, swimmer or no — Buckley was ending his swimming routine for the season anyway. It was dark, the swells gave pause, and he was swimming alone through a sea cave one last time before fading day kept him out again until spring.

Maybe he had become complacent to the dangers of the cave, swimming by himself as he often does, but told of still being aware of how precise he must be, how mindful of how the water plays through the entrance, even with heavy chop, so that he can get in without hurting himself on the reefs.

Once in, he told of going through his usual routine to calm himself, of planning his exit, of taking account of factors in the dark waters and dancing dim light of the cave:
"The faint light bouncing past two outcropping rocks knocked out the dark adaptation of my eyes as I looked back to the cave And in front of the table rock, into a pair of eyes.
"It wasn’t a seal. I tell you I know it wasn’t a seal. Some people are terrified of being in the water near a seal, and I’m not one. I’ve swum past rocks with seals on them, had them pop up in front of me or seen them behind me or behind others in the water, seen them from kayaks and boats and land. A seal is as recognisable (sic) as a dog.
"Seals don’t have large faintly luminous eyes and no obvious nose. Seals don’t look long and thin and scaly and somehow hard. Seals don’t have a head that tapers to a bony ridge or crest.
"Seals don’t have eyes that evaluate you. That do more than see you, that look at you. That judge you, and find you insufficient.
"Seals don’t have hands."
Next he described the terror of trying to escape this being, of the water like so much sand under his flailing arms, giving him no traction to the exit through the other end of the cave, before the being could overtake him.

You'll just have to read what happened. It is something Ray Bradbury might have written. Buckley invokes H.P. Lovecraft by name.

This thing I drew may not be what he saw, but it's what I saw through Buckley's words. Illustrations are bound to ruin things for others' imaginations, I know, but I just had to draw what Buckley had conjured in me. I just had to.

One of Buckley's blog followers, who shared this post with various online swimming communities, noted the date of the post, Oct. 31.

We'll just see, the follower said, if LoneSwimmer ever posts again.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Influence peddler

Five hundred hashmarks, it turns out, takes a very long time to make.
This is blog post No. 500.

High time, then, to examine how I've done in changing the world from my little virtual outpost these last five years.

Not all of these posts have been phoned in. Not even most. Oh, they comprise so much navel gazing, of course, but almost always in thoughtful consideration of the fuzz therein. Occasionally I have looked beyond myself, out into the crazy beautiful stinking tragic foregone world, rolled this blog into a megaphone and used it to shout at the world: Hey, fix that!

And how did that turn out?

Let us review: I, in chronological order:
It stands to reason all this saving the world stuff can be overwhelming to process, which is why I peppered the blog with bits about swimming and Giants baseball and paid doodles.

Now, if you'll excuse me, time to work on No. 501. But really, what problem could possibly be left to solve?

That is, except for determining if this counts as a blog post.