Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Letter to "Deej"

To "Deej," One of the greasy-haired, emebellished-accent, baggy-sweatpantsed, foul-mouthed, meatheads who felt the need to mock me on my run today-

Deej, buddy. Sorry to adress this letter to you, alone. It is, after all, meant for all three of you gentlement whose sheltered little corner of Jersey City I happened to interrupt as I passed the campus of St. Peter's College on my run today. It just so happens that yours was the only name I caught as you and your "bros" cajoled eachother whilst dropping racial epithets and homophobic slurs while mocking me for my running attire, my shamefulness in daring to exercise. Most of your conversation sounded as if it was being spoken with marbles in your mouths, but I am pretty sure I caught a few "N-bombs" (despite all of your painfully apparent whiteness) at least three "fags" and of course, you pointing at my underarmour shirt, and mocking the fact that I was trying to keep tempo while stuck at a red light. Look, man, I appreciate the fact that you came to Jersey City hoping to urbanize your otherwise insignificant and boring suburban Maplewood existence. I can empathize. But some of us move to urban areas to avoid ignorant cliche sons of bitches like you. We embrace the diversity, and respect the fact that on any given time, we might be standing next to someone who would dare to be black, or gay, or GOD FORBID, a person who exercises. I understand this may not be your thing (it's pretty obvious, even with those baggy pants that you haven't hit the treadmill since high school gym class.) I respect the fact that it's tough for you and your bros to "score with the bitches" in Uggs and Juicy Couture at parties on Friday nights when you don't have that prototypical chubby-faced, cap-popped-sideways, absurd bling-rocking swagger. It's an identity (just like every other suburban white kid who attends your college, and aims to look hip.) But here's a tip. Chicks might dig it if you actually stopped dicking around with your friends playing PS3 and got off your ass and shed the baby fat. Seriously, bro, put down the Whopper.

Back to tonight, though. I'm awfully sorry shit had to get confrontational. It's just I take it personally when people mock me for minding my own business. And I take particular offense, too, when people are inconsiderate to others for no fucking reason what-so-ever. People were rolling their eyes at you, Dee, I was embarassed for you. So I know it wasn't clever of me to tell you to "get a fucking life." I wish I had it in me to come up with something a little more witty, but, alas, as I mentioned, I was in the middle of a six mile run. I was tired. Your response however, to "eat shit, faggot," was not only unclever, it was down right comical (in a way that you hadn't intended it to be...even if your friends were all giggly.) See I actually eat pretty round meals (maybe a little more carbs than your average Joe, but mostly because I need them to run, y'know, exercise, without breaking down.) Furthermore, that finger that I flashed in your direction? Right next to it was a wedding ring. I probably shouldn't get in to the tendency for men with latent gay tendencies to repress their emotions for so long that they eventually become the most agressive type of homophobe their is: the self-loathing gay. I'm sure you know about all that already.

So, Deej, my main bro, my advice to you is to get your shit together. Fortunately for you, your childish antics only caused a small uncomfortable run-in this time around. Next time you might be dropping the n-bomb or a homophobic slur around the wrong crowd. After all, we aren't in Maplewood anymore. Also, word to the wise: the whole baggy pants thing is done. Both the white people you inexplicably mock, and the black culture icons whom you desperately try to emulate have realized that pants that actually fit are not only more common-sensical, they are also more comfortable, and fashionable. Be careful out there, Deej. I know the corridors of the St. Peter's Dorms can be a tough place. But just think about this next time you are out and about with your bros: people like you are the reason people "from away" give NJ such a bad rap. They think we are all macho-meathead-assclowns like you, even if most of us are far from it. In fact, I'd venture a guess that outside of your two lackeys, everybody you came into contact with today really wishes you would move to Texas or Mississippi, where crap like that is tolerated.

Monday, February 12, 2007

What I'm Going to Do Without Ya, Girl?

No more Red Sox. Here's what I'll be doing with my spring and summer. For those of you who read this blog for the sports, that will be the site that's going to interest you most for the next few months. For those who like to listen to my brainfarts about other random stuff, keep coming back here. If you are just addicted, and can't get enough of me, you can visit both. I permit thee.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Reviewing Books I've Never Read

Last night I attended the monthly Varsity Letters reading series at a bar/club in Chinatown called Happy Ending Lounge. I found the event at once tremendously full of potential, and slightly disappointing. It's one of the great things about living in a major metropolitan area that any time someone has a good idea, they can almost always find the ingredients necessary to bring that idea to fruition, and always find a constituency that will be equally as excited about this idea. In this case, Carl Bialik (a writer at Gelf Magazine) has found the place (oddly enough, a club in Chinatown) the writers and the audience necessary to put together a monthly reading by Sports Writers. The set-up is less than ideal: it is a dark club where one expects to find dancing metrosexual males leering at under-dressed oversexualized young females, and perhaps the occasional slam-poetry reading in the dark lounge (so dark, in fact, one of the readers had trouble seeing his own book.) Alas, it is difficult to complain about atmosphere. Where else can you find a group of intellectual sports fans gathering to hear readings by well-know writers in an intimate setting where they are free to interact with the authors, both during a question and answer period and on a more personal basis, while milling around the lounge? Outside of a large city, the answer is "nowhere else." In a large city, if the answer has to be the inside of a dimly-lit lounge, then so be it. The three readers last night were: Jack Cavanaugh, an older journalist type with credentials coming out of his rumpled suit pockets, reading from his new book about the life of Jack Tunney; Katie Hnida, author of a memoir detailing her experiences as the first Div. I female football player; and S.L. Price, who writes for SI (including this year's Sportsman of the year article about D. Wade) and has written a book about Cuban baseball called Pitching Around Fidel. As you can guess, I attended the reading to see the last author. All three of them were intriguing for various reasons, though, so we'll break them down one-by-one followed by a "would I buy this book?" segment.

Jack Cavanaugh

I can't say enough about Cavanaugh's resume. The man is a professional journalist, through and through: NY Times, SI, Reader's Digest, Golf Mag., etc... He is an old-school sports writer, a species, which--for better or worse--is becoming extinct in today's internet-based world. He is a man of research, investigative hands on reporting, who personally invests himself in his subjects and it shows: he knows of which he speaks. He spoke about Jack Tunney as knowlegeably as you'd expect from a man who researched and wrote a 300-page tome on the little known boxer who defeated Jack Dempsey in the 20's. He is, without a doubt, an expert on the subject. What he is not is much of a public speaker. This happens all the time with writers. I for one can write my thoughts about 100 times more clearly than I could ever speak them because I can draw the connections without wandering (too far) afield, whereas, when speaking I tend to forget the subject from whence I deviated. Cavanaugh had this same affliction but to a severe degree (even when reading his own work he constantly interjected random thoughts, and even complete stories, into the middle of his reading. In a cute, grandfatherly way, he was laughable in his innocence (he said things like, "I can't tell you what happens at the end of the book because my publicist says I need to tease the audience so they will buy it!") And though his reading was a bit slipshod (thanks to his personality, and to some extent the poor lighting) he did the best job of the three in really explaining and illuminating the subject of his book. He discussed Tunney as a unique persona (for an athlete)who liked to read Shakespeare, and married an heiress, despite his modest Brooklyn upbringing. He made you want to get to know more about a topic that, without reading the book, you could not appreciate; and he made you feel that without doing so, you'd be missing out on something significant.

Would you buy this book? Absolutely. If it wasn't hardcover I would have bought it on site. This was a classic case of a reading where you have no interest in the topic before the author speaks about it, yet you come out of it wondering how you'd never heard about, or read about this before.

SL Price

As I mentioned, Price was the reason I attended the event. As far as speaking goes, he was the best among the three, by far. He knew his audience, and he catered his speech to that audience. He discussed the importance of a good subject, but more importantly a great "Get," the storyline that makes a story sell (our next author seems to have heeded this advice.) He talked about D. Wade, and his relationship with his mother, an alcoholic, drug-abusing criminal, who has now cleaned up and is the proud mother of the sportsman of the year (the kind of human interest story SI does better than most.) What Price didn't talk enough about, for my money, was what I went there to see: he didn't discuss much the methods he used in researching his stories (particularly the story of Pitching Around Fidel, his book about Cuban Baseball.) In fact, he hardly mentioned the Cuban baseball book, other than to mention he had tried to avoid the political undertones of the story, which seemed unfortunate to me, as I think those undertones are the heart of that particular story. I enjoyed his speech, I only wish he had been more aggressive in pitching his book, instead of his trade.

Would you buy the book? Yes, but not because of the reading. Simply because it is a topic that interests me. I don't think Price did much to attract any new readers last night. One of the highlights though was blogger Captain Caveman of With Leather asking the Sports Illustrated writer how he feels about the down-fall of Time, and the magazine industry as a whole, in the shadow of the internet age.

Katie Hnida

I'm not going to make any friends with the Dave Zirin's of the world with this one, I fear. I've tried my damnedest to argue my point with friends and no matter how logical my conclusions, no matter how relevant my points, I always come down on the side of this issue that makes me a bad person, a sexist, or a cynic. Because, here's the thing, I don't know that I trust Hnida. That doesn't mean I think Hnida is a false accuser, it just means that despite my desire to believe her, and despite my liberal politics, even despite my tendency to always fall for the victim of an alleged crime; no matter how hard I try, I keep coming to the same conclusion about the Katie Hnida story--something just doesn't seem right. Unfortunately, Katie's reading only reaffirmed by doubts. In my defense, and because I am terribly sensitive to the fact that my opinion is an unpopular one, I want to reitirate that in my heart I want to believe Hnida. I want to believe we live in a world where nobody would embellish or flasify such a private violation as rape. We don't. I defended the victim of the Duke Rape case, even as the prosecutions case fell apart. I still believe something more than stripping happened in that house, and the woman was a victim of some sort of harassment (Hnida, for her part, has called the Duke incident "frustrating," adding that, "any false accusations that are out there make it harder for those of us who have been raped or attacked to press charges."

The Hnida rape case perplexes me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is my constant battle with the moral question of how fair it is to doubt someone in a situation like this. But to see Hnida reading last night was to realize that the sanctity of the situation has been unloosed, at Hnida's own doing. Stating her fear of having her sexual and personal history dragged through the mud, as the reason she has avoided pressing charges and naming the man she accuses of raping her, Hnida has, nevertheless been willing to make herself a public figure in the name of selling her story. She says one of the biggest reasons for writing the book is "for me to spread to other victims to not just keep quiet. So many women don't say anything to anyone. They just hold it inside by themselves." And yet, ostensibly, Hnida is still keeping quiet, isn't she? She has still not named her rapist, thereby implicating an entire team as the possible rapist, and she has still not sought justice for the man she claims sent her into a spiraling depression, and ended her career at Colorado.

The unfortunate thing for Hnida is, she did not speak up immediately after she was raped, but rather waited until other females had come forward claiming rape by the CU football team. Hnida's detractors, perhaps unfairly, wonder how seriously a claim can be taken when it is only brought forward after other accusations (the proverbial kicking of a dog that's already down.) It didn't help that Katie's accusations against a team atmosphere of sexual derision, fostered by Coach Gary Barnett came a few years after a meeting in which Barnett told Hnida she would not be making the team her sophomore year (she then transferred to University of New Mexico.) Which brings us to last night's reading, in which a question about Barnett brought visible anger to Hnida's face. It was the kind of reaction you'd expect when discussing Hnida's rapist. Nobody had the audacity to ask Hnida about that, however.

What got Gary Barnett into so much trouble at Colorado, and what became "the last straw" in his tenure there, was a quote in which Barnett said "Not only was Katie a girl, she was a terrible kicker." (in the context of the press conference, this seems a less inflamatory, but still unnecessary, response.) Hnida claims this quote bothered her less than a supposed email Barnett wrote following her accusation in which he asked how aggresively to approach the subject of her sexual conquests. Katie sees this as Barnett responding to a rape allegation by trying to shoot the messenger. Some former co-workers disagree: "When the story about Katie came out, there were many offers from people who wanted to come forward to discredit her," said the source. "Gary didn’t let them do that, out of sensitivity to Katie’s situation." Katie claims this email from Barnett offended her far more than his "terrible kicker comment." So I hope it won't offend Katie, if I also add on that she is a terrible writer.

The title of Hnida's book (Still Kicking: My Dramatic Journey as the First Woman to Play College Football) speaks volumes about the way Hnida preceives herself. First of all "dramatic" is an understatement. Secondly, there is no doubt that Hnida (rightfully so, perhaps) sees herself as a pioneer well before she sees herself a victim. Hnida's reading was about 10-12 minutes long, a full reading of her prologue, and it breaks down (crudely) like this: 9-10 minutes of Katie describing her the first point a woman ever scored in D-I (her PAT attempt in a blow-out bowl game) followed by about 1-2 minutes of "as great as I felt then, I couldn't forget the struggles I had been through" type-stuff. Actual lines from the reading include "it was a bone chilling, shivering cold rain." and "I had so many layers on I looked like Frosty the Snowman." All of this was read slowly, in an affected tone, with dramatic pauses. She may have been reading Invisible man. The thing is, not many people care about that extra point, and nobody cares about it more than they care about the scandal of the rape allegations. Hnida has to know that, and it's hard to tell just how much it bothers her. It's hard to know if Hnida is aware that the story sells because it is a scandalous story about a sexy female, and that is the vehicle through which she was able to get the attention necesary to tell what she thinks is the truly important story of her life: that meaningless extra point. It's hard to imagine she isn't at least aware of that. The cover of her book features Hnida's perfect smile, gorgeous eyes and long blond hair, framed over a still shot of her kicking a field goal (helmetless) with that long ponytail flying wild. She spoke last night in a black dress with high-heeled leather boots. Sex sells, even the tabboo variety. Just ask the gentlemen she playfully flirted with in the bathroom line, or Captain Caveman, who nearly fell out of his barstool trying to fumble through his pockets to give her his card.

During the question and answer session I didn't raise my hand, and I am glad I didn't. It would have taken at least as many words as I've written here to relate the complexity of how I feel about this situation (and maybe I still haven't done so.) But there is one question I wish I had asked, as she cozied into a corner table with four other women (friends, I suppose) and poured them all a bottle of bubbly (an odd choice, I thought, for someone who'd just finished talking about the nightmares she endured.) I wanted to ask her if it wouldn't set a better example for all of those rape victims for whom she says she wrote the book, if she were to stop being quiet and name, and perhaps bring to justice, the man who raped her. If, perhaps, it wouldn't be of more solace to her than any amount of money she might make off of this book? I didn't ask her, and I wish I had. But again, if I had done so, I would have been the one who came off bad. I left her to her champagne celebration.

Would I buy the book? The moral answer here is "no," right? Or is it "yes." Regardless. I don't think I will buy the book. But I am sure at some point I will take it out of the library or borrow it...or something.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

(insert long winters music with montage of clips of brooding hipster dude and his fair skinned, waifish ex-girlfriend, here)

Wow. Brooklyn: You have hit the big-time! They are making a Laguna-Beach Inspired MTV reality show about Brooklyn High schoolers. In the premier episode, Sophia (who wears oversized sweaters with leggings and ballet slippers in the winter-time) is stressing because her boyfriend Huck (named ironically because his parents thought it had an Americana twist to it) might be cheating with Sara (a hassidic Jew whose parents wish all these hipsters would leave them the fugg alone!!!!) I can't wait.

Friday, February 02, 2007

A myth is a process of telling stories. Most of which Ain't True

In September of 1969, Eight men were placed on trial for violating the anti-riot act of 1968, a debatably unconstitutional law passed to prevent the gathering of protestors, specifically protests that were believed to be anti-war protests, in which the perpetrators crossed state lines with "the intent to riot." This phrase of course was left vague, so it could be applied in any circumstance which the law deemed applicable. I won't go too heavily into the history of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, or the protests led by the Yippies, MOBE, The Black Panthers, and the SCLC (you can find an excellent summary here.) But what took place in the trial that ensued for the eight defendents (Abbie Hoffman, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, John Froines and Lee Weiner) happens to be one of my favorite moments of American history. It certainly wasn't a shining moment in the Nation's brief past, but it is a moment which symbolized the pinnacle of the youth movement of the 1960's. It was part of the course of events that led to the diminished movement, sure, but it was also the moment where the absurdity of the old-guard American ways were most clearly illuminated. American hysteria, and self-seriousness was put on trial by the very defendants it had put on trial. The tables were turned by a smart collection of individuals who saw the fallacy of the American war in Vietnam, the hypocrisy of the Democratic party, and the inanity with which older Americans were placing their faith in the hands of abusive powers.

What we are seeing right now in Boston with the "LiteBrite" terrorists, reminds me, somewhat of what happened with the trial of the Chicago Eight, and so I thought I'd recall the circumstances of those trials, again. I understand, of course, the very different nature of these two conflicts. In his closing summation, Defense Attorney William Kunstler (the man for whom The Dude pines, upon his arrest in Malibu) had this to say about the trial of the Chicago Seven (Bobby Seale was removed from the trial after being ordered bound and gagged by the judge):

"We are living in extremely troubled times, as Mr. Weinglass pointed out. An intolerable war abroad has divided and dismayed us all. Racism at home and poverty at home are both causes of despair and discouragement. In a so-called affluent society, we have people starving, and people who can't even begin to approximate the decent life.
These are rough problems, terrible problems, and as has been said by everybody in this country, they are so enormous that they stagger the imagination. But they don't go away by destroying their critics. They don't vanish by sending men to jail. They never did and they never will."

The difference between that trial and the seemingly inevitable--if absurd--trial of the two Boston Artists who installed the LightBrites causing Bostonians to panic is, of course, the impetus. In 1968 the act was one of protest, brought on by outrage against an injust war, a woefully complacent and out-of-touch elder generation, and an abusive government. Today's matter is an act of "guerilla advertising" by two artists, brought on by the incentive of marketing for a multi-billion dollar corporation. The two are incomparable, of course. What makes the cases similar is the absurdity of the reaction by the aforementioned out-of-touch older generation, and a frightening abuse of power by an embarassed legal authority, desperate to find an enemy, even where one doesn't exist.

Indeed, what this whole charade is about is a few clueless individuals panicking in a time of fear, overreacting due to the instilled paranoia of the day, and an excessive response by the law enforcers, which lead, inevitably to their own embarassment. So what is the response? Naturally to find a scapegoat. And not just a scapegoat for the boneheadedness of one city's police department, but rather for the entire state of paranoia of America's oversensitive citizens. It was not enough for the Chief of Boston's Police Department to stop at the absurd half-truth of blaming the two artists for massive traffic delays and hundreds of thousands of wasted tax dollars (where is the blame for the overreactive response?) but he had to go a step further, ostensibly connecting the two artists to terrorists by admonishing their failure to take seriously a few hyper-alert individuals' paranoia: "Just a little over a mile away from the placement of the first device, a group of terrorists boarded airplanes and launched an attack on New York City." The idea, of course, is that the artists should be held accountable for not being predictive of other people's ignorance and paranoia. While the Chicago trial was about destroying the critics of a problem, this public trial is about destroying the innocent bystanders to a problem. The problem is right in front of our faces: the problem is a nation embellished with fear, and teetering so close to insanity with their paranoia that they could mistake a litebrite for a bomb. The problem is an excessive response by a police department, and government officials desperate to foil the next major terrorist disaster, and then too stubborn to admit they were wrong and excessive (I wonder where they get that trait from?) And the problem is that even now, as we see the humor in the absurdity of what happened in Boston, an out-of-touch generation of media-members continue to miss the real perpetrators of this folly: the people who overreacted in the first place. Instead they buy the company line that the installation artists should have forseen this, with lines like this: " It’s mind-boggling that a large corporation could be dumb enough not to realize that placing battery-operated objects in public places might be a bit problematic in the post-9/11 world." I wonder what the Boston Herald Columnist who wrote that would think about the Boombox Parade held in December just a few miles from Ground Zero! (By the way, for the most amusing overreaction to this drama, stay glued to Boston Herald, which, embarassed over their own excessive coverage of the 'bomb scare' has villified these two "criminals" more than that article and wonder why people call Boston a racist town.)

The thing is, I am a fan of the absurd. Absurdity is as relevant to American history as is George Washington, baseball, and gunpowder. And what makes this debacle so interesting to me--like what makes the Chicago 7 so interesting--is the absurdity of it all, and the fact that the ones placed on trial by the absurd, try to illuminate the absurd, but--absurdly--are misunderstood as malicious. Some people really just don't get it: illustrated by the media saying time and time again that the "pranksters" were nonsensically babbling on about hair in their post-release press-conference...apparently, they don't feel like researching Cartoon Network much. The baby boomer generation, which invented guerilla theatre, seems to have forgotten it just as quickly. Describing the guerilla theatre that took place in Chicago at the trial, witness Phil Ochs put it this way: "theatrically dealing with what seemed to be an increasingly absurd world and trying to deal with it in ways other than just on a straight moral level." If the people, media, and law officials in Boston can't see the absurdity of all of this, it must be because they are too busy wiping their chins of the embarassment they caused themselves. Anyway, it sure seems history repeats itself, and there is no shortage of absuridity in the arch of American history. Now if you'll excuse me, my computer is blinking funnily. I think I need to call the police.

YouTube of the "terrorists" press conference here.

Transcript of the Chicago 7 Trail here. At least Read Abbie Hoffman's testimony.