Friday, May 24, 2013

10 Pieces of Pop Culture I Seem to Enjoy More Than Everyone Else

Just a few weeks ago I made a list of pieces of pop culture I seem to dislike more than everyone else, so I figured I would go ahead and make a list of 10 pieces of pop culture I seem to enjoy more than everyone else. It's easier to make a list of things you hate than a list of things you like, especially since some of the pop culture items I like more than other people are somewhat embarrassing to me. 

1. A Perfect Getaway

You probably have never heard of this movie. It actually got decent reviews and I really enjoyed this movie probably more than I should have. If it shows up on television then I always end up watching it. Very embarrassingly, I tend to enjoy Timothy Olyphant in nearly everything he does. He is in this film as is Steve Zahn, but it probably doesn't encourage anyone watch it to hear Zahn's name. It's like hearing Nick Cannon is joining a television show. Sure, you know his name, but he isn't ever the reason you watch something. I wasn't entirely sure what this film was about when I got it on Netflix and even halfway through the movie all I knew was that there was a killer loose on the island and there was probably only 7-8 people this killer could be.

I recommended this movie to a friend of mine and after he watched it he told me it was good, but not great. Perhaps I enjoyed it because I am sucker for shorter movies that tell a story, don't waste time (there isn't much that happens in parts, but this is part of building the tension), and then have some mystery about them. Anyway, I shouldn't like this movie as much as I do. I realize that, but if it were on television now I would watch it again. As long as you don't figure out the ending it has tension. To tell you anymore might ruin the ending if you ever did watch it. Is it the presence of Olyphant, the fact the scenery is beautiful or why is it that I really like this movie? I like it and recommend it way more than I probably should.

2. Gordon Ramsey cooking shows

I can't cook for shit. I haven't tried to learn to cook and my idea of adding ingredients to something is usually throwing some cayenne pepper on top of whatever it is I am eating. I eat too much cayenne pepper because I like my food spicy. Yet I love to watch "Kitchen Nightmares" and "Hell's Kitchen" (I won't watch "MasterChef" because even I have my limits) and judge the food being made as if I can do better. I watch zero other cooking shows and have no interest in other cooking shows. I'm not sure why, but I like Gordon Ramsey's shows the best. I have very little cooking skill, but that doesn't stop me from constantly exclaiming criticism and judging what others cook by yelling things like,

"Come on, that's raw. It's raw. How the hell do they think they can get away with serving that?"

"I can't believe these people can't cook a simple risotto." (I have no idea what risotto is, but I know these contestants on "Hell's Kitchen" should be able to easily cook one)

"You always date and seal your product in the fridge! You can't own a restaurant and know nothing about cooking, even I know that. How do you expect to have fresh ingredients if you don't date your product? That's Restaurant 101."

"You can't slip something like that past Ramsey. He'll catch it every time." 

I love watching these shows and judging these chefs for not knowing how to make meals that I myself don't know how to make. It's fun to stand in judgment of others I guess. Either that, or I just like to hear people get berated, kicked out of the kitchen and called a "fat cow" for cooking a dish incorrectly. It's weird because I watch no other cooking shows and haven't ever watched Food Network.

3. Ryan Adams' "Gold"

Every album that Ryan Adams puts out is inevitably compared to "Gold," which I think is ridiculous. For me, this one of the best albums of the 2000's. I probably like this album more than many other people do. It's mopey, bitter, and a good example of what my college friend called "pussy pop." Either way, I think this is a brilliant album and I don't care if Adams ever tops it. I listened to the hell out of this CD while I was in college because angry songs like "Nobody Girl" spoke to the angry part of me and songs like "LaCienga Just Smiled" or "Harder Now That It's Over" spoke to the part of me that occasionally like to listen to sad music about drinking and making mistakes. It's drunk, sad/bitter/angry music. What could be better?

This album is probably more famous for being released on 09/11/2001 and the lead single being called "New York, New York," which is of course a song about New York relative to Ryan Adams being bitter at himself for a love that did not work out. Most of his songs tended to go in that direction, especially on this album, except these songs were really well-done so it was bearable. It's one of the few albums I can listen to no matter what mood I am in. Plus it has the line intended as a put-down, "If your horses could talk, I wonder if they would complain." This is part of a rodeo analogy where this unnamed girl apparently has late night hookups because she is such a bad person. The whole album screams of yearning for or expecting self-destruction to come. It seems I really like that type of album. My wife hates Ryan Adams because she hates his voice and thinks he's whiny. I find this opinion is shared by quite a few people, but I love the album "Gold" way more than most other people do.

4. The Faces

I favor the Rolling Stones over the Beatles and I favor Rod Stewart's work before he became a saccharine balladeer. So what would is better than a combination of Rod Stewart's voice before he became classy/sophisticated and a bar band version of the Rolling Stones? The answer: nothing. That's the Faces for me. They spent most of their time drinking and carousing and got in the studio to perform music in their spare time. They are one of my favorite bands of all-time. In fact, the Faces were Rod Stewart's backing band on most of his early (really good) solo albums.

They put out four albums, the later ones actually messier and less produced than the earlier ones and had a few hits on those albums. They are also the reason I get pissed off when someone refers to "Stay With Me" as a Rod Stewart song. It is not. It was written by the Faces and is on their "A Nod is as Good as a Wink to a Blind Horse" album. That slide guitar isn't a studio musician, it is Ron Wood. Though they got compared to the Rolling Stones out of pure laziness, the Black Crowes were completely like the Faces on their first album until they pussied out and became whatever you consider them to be today.

The albums the Faces put out weren't as commercial sounding as Rod Stewart's solo material and the blues they played wasn't as accessible as what the Rolling Stones played. If haven't heard them then listen to their live version of "Maybe I'm Amazed." It's not the best version, but is the only version I could find. It's messy, feels disjointed and really isn't a song that fits their style, but it still sort of works. I think it is more popular to cite the Faces as an influence than it is to actually claim to like their music. I really like their music.

5. The Middle

So ABC has a Wednesday evening comedy that seems to get all of the accolades in terms of Emmy nominations and attention from the press. That show is "Modern Family," which is beloved by the media because it features a funny gay couple and a Hispanic woman with huge boobs. Yes, it is funny, but it isn't the best Wednesday night comedy on ABC. For one, "Modern Family" isn't really indicative at all of a modern family. The money never runs out to go on expensive vacations, one of the lead characters is a realtor who apparently did not suffer at all during the housing crisis, and each "family" features a spouse that does not have to work. That's not really a modern family. The most modern part about the show is there is a gay couple and the show isn't shy about showing their relationship. I like the show, but a modern family generally has money issues, two parents in the workforce, and family that doesn't live within a short drive of each other's houses. Maybe that's my experience.

The real modern family is on "The Middle." It's a show where there is clearly a budget, the kids are kind of weird/losers, and the family sometimes hates each other. It's also a better, more consistent show than "Modern Family" in my opinion and even does certain gags better than "Modern Family" has done. The whole "Our daughter is clearly dating/friends with a young man who hasn't realized he is gay" was done on "Modern Family" and "The Middle," but consistently done with much more success on "The Middle." I'm talking about Brad, Sue's ex-boyfriend, who appears as a one-note joke that hasn't quite stopped being funny yet.

Patricia Heaton is one of the parents and Neil Flynn (the nameless janitor on "Scrubs") is the other parent. I'm not a big Patricia Heaton fan, but she works on this show. It's a very well-written show about parents that sometimes dislike their children and really have no idea what they are doing when parenting, but do a great job of pretending they do. Their kids' names are Brick, Axel and Sue for God's sake. I tend to enjoy well-written shows (or shows I believe are well-written) and "The Middle" does a good job of showing a middle class family and the weirdness that goes on with the family. If I were to rank Top 10 television shows for 2013 this show would come close to making this list, yet I feel it gets no love.

They even have Norm McDonald guest star sometimes, which is always a good thing.

6. Alias

This show could be a disaster at times and Seasons 3 and 4 are sort of mixed up and a little confusing. Go figure, a J.J. Abrams television show that gets caught up in its own mythology and gets confusing. Who woulda' thunk it? There were definitely more girly parts of this show, but the ass-kicking parts and the plot really made it worth watching to me. The show was canceled after Season 5 (granted, after Jennifer Garner said she wasn't interested in doing the show anymore) and it never got great ratings, but I always enjoyed it. I even got my wife into it by forcing her to watch the show on the DVD because I own the---I mean---because I borrowed them from a friend of mine.

7. Gnocchi

I had never tried gnocchi before I went to the food tasting for my wedding dinner. I was hooked. Gnocchi is actually pasta, but it tastes like potatoes, and it was put on the wedding dinner menu simply so that I could eat it. Now whenever I go to a restaurant that has gnocchi I have to try it. It's better than spaghetti and many other pastas in my opinion. What person in their right mind would choose a ball of tiny potato-looking pasta over a real Italian dinner? Me. I would.

8. Halloween series of films

I know. You say, "Ben, everyone like 'Halloween.' It's a classic horror movie and probably one of the best horror movies ever made." True, but I like every single "Halloween" movie in the series. It's my favorite serial killer horror series. I will not watch "Halloween 3: Season of the Witch" because it is the bastard child of the series, but all of the other movies I either own on Blu-Ray or will own on Blu-Ray when they go on sale again. I have a hard time watching the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series because it gets silly at times, but even when the "Halloween" series got silly, it was super-serious about being silly and played it straight. Michael Myers didn't crack jokes, every movie didn't have a very similar plot (every "Friday the 13th" seemed to have the exact same set up until they threw Jason on a boat and took him to Manhattan), and in what other series can you watch Paul Rudd run away from a serial killer? Yes, he was in "Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers."

Plus, there was Dr. Loomis in nearly every movie muttering under his breath about how no one would believe him that Michael Myers is pure evil. He's like a crazy person running around Haddonfield chasing a crazy person. That's what I enjoyed most about the series, that Dr. Loomis really seemed like a crazy person when he warned the sheriff and various other law enforcement officials about Michael Myers. Would you believe a guy who worked as a doctor at a psych ward, carried a gun, and always seemed to be wide-eyed and panting about how you need to pay attention to him because one of his patients is on the loose? I probably wouldn't...or wouldn't until the fourth or fifth time and he was right every time. I refuse to watch Rob Zombie's "re-imagination" of the "Halloween" series, but these are another set of movies I will always watch when they come on television. I will even watch "Halloween: Resurrection," if only to watch Tyra Banks get killed.

9. Shows like "MysteryQuest" and "MonsterQuest"

These two shows used to appear on the History Channel and I watched every single one of them, even when I knew they weren't going to find anything substantial. MonsterQuest searched for such cryptozoological creatures such as:

Giganto: The real King Kong
The Russian Apeman
Mega Hog
Real Dragons
Ohio Grassman
Mysterious Ape Island
Hillybilly Beast

The episodes all sound like bad Syfy movies don't they? They probably all are bad Syfy movies.

MysteryQuest searched for mysteries like:

The Lost City of Atlantis
Jack the Ripper
The Zodiac

In fact, a critic said of the show:

" sometimes seems like the writers go into a particular mystery with a preconceived idea of what happened and only look at evidence that supports that idea." 

YES! That is exactly what happens. The show only found out some interesting facts about a skull that was supposedly Hitler's skull, but otherwise never found anything. Yet I continued to watch. It probably says a lot about me as a person, but I will re-watch them when they come back on television. I love shows about mysteries, even when I ended the show knowing they didn't find anything I always thought, "...but that one person did make a pretty good point."

Yes, I'm an idiot. You put a show about a long-unsolved mystery on television and I will probably watch it.

10. R.E.M. "Automatic for the People"

This is probably one of my desert-island albums. Most people state that "Out of Time" is their favorite R.E.M. album, but "Automatic for the People" is easily mine. It's (here's a shock) kind of depressing and mostly acoustic. After this album R.E.M. finally delivered on the pure "rock" album they had been promising for almost a decade. If "Out of Time" was the happier, acoustic album by R.E.M. that focused on slightly more upbeat pop songs, "Automatic for the People" was the more depressing, acoustic album that has more than one song about death contained in the 12 tracks. The album does get a bit lost in the middle with "Monty Got a Raw Deal," "Ignoreland," and "Star Me Kitten," but then ends the album with "Man on the Moon," "Nightswimming," and "Find the River." That's a great set of songs to end the album.

"Automatic for the People" is one of those albums that most people need to be in the mood to listen to, but I am usually in the mood to listen to it. Considering R.E.M. had put out a hugely successful album just a year before, it was kind of surprising they not only followed up a commercially successful album so quickly, but followed "Out of Time" up with a downbeat album. I think what I like most about "Automatic for the People" is it seems like a sort of reaction to the sunny pop of "Automatic for the People" and an album the band wanted to make before they did their long-awaited (at least by R.E.M. fans) "rock" album. I think I love this album more than most people do. I think it is R.E.M.'s greatest achievement as a band...well next to knowing when to quit.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I Blame Cancer (and Maybe Randy Johnson) for My Father's Death

I posted this on Bottom of the Barrel a year ago and figured I would re-post it here since my personal blog is a more appropriate place for this type of writing. I'm not big on re-posting something I have previously written, but figured I would make an exception today.

My father passed away 9 years ago today at the age of 55. He died of a very aggressive form of prostate cancer. Prior to him being diagnosed, the only thing I knew about prostate cancer is it seemed like a nicer way of saying “ass cancer.” Clearly I was way off on what prostate cancer was and where the hell the prostate was exactly located. Of course I also thought the word “prejudice” was spelled “pregidous” until I was 12 years old. My 6th grade paper on Martin Luther King, Jr. was probably a great source of laughter among the teachers at my school. I found out my freshman year of college that he was diagnosed with this type of cancer when my sister called me in my dorm room and said my parents were going to call me and tell me some bad news. My sister then told me the bad news. She decided to tell me before they could get to me because she knows my mother and father always found a way to deliver bad news in the worst way possible. Generally, my parents’ way of breaking bad news to me was saying something like, “I know you hate going to West Virginia for Thanksgiving, so we have good news! You don’t have to go to West Virginia for Thanksgiving anymore because your grandfather died!” Maybe that’s just the way it would have sounded to me.

Let me go down a rabbit hole really quickly and allow me to explain this better. A few years after my father’s diagnosis (that’s what we called it because it sounded better than “was told he was going to die sooner than he thought he would and it wasn’t going to be of natural causes”) my parents had discussed with me the idea of putting to sleep the dog I had since I was five years old. He was old and could barely walk. It didn’t help our “new” family dog took great pride in knocking him over like a bowling pin at every opportunity. When my parents and I had this conversation, I requested they call me and I would come home from college to say my last goodbyes to my nearly-lifelong pet when they made this decision. I only reiterated I wanted it to happen this way probably five times. Naturally, they decided to go ahead and put him to sleep two weeks after this conversation and NOT NOTIFY ME AT ALL. I got no call saying they were taking him to the hospital, no one calling to ask if I want him to bark at me one last time, asking whether I prefer they cremate him or bury him in the backyard…nothing. So 24 hours after the dastardly deed was done, my mother calls me on my cell phone and asks to speak to my roommate while we are at a party. She tells him they put my dog to sleep and to break the news to me tomorrow after we get back from the party. Anyway, my roommate immediately told me they had put my dog to sleep and I proceeded to have a conversation with my parents about the appropriate way to break bad news to a person.

This is why my sister called me regarding my father's bad news first before my parents could find a way to make this already bad news even worse. For all I know they would have called in a bomb threat to my dorm so I could see the bad news along with everyone else plastered on the side of a blimp hovering over the Appalachian mountains. I put nothing past them in their inability to deliver bad news appropriately.

So I am told by my sister that my parents are going to call me and tell me the bad news, which did happen maybe five minutes after I hung up with her. My dad was very positive about his diagnosis and said it wasn’t known if it had spread or not but the doctors knew it was malignant. He said he had known the doctors found the tumor during Christmas three weeks earlier, but he didn’t want us to worry until we got a full diagnosis about whether it had spread to other parts of his body or not. I’m not sure how he and my mom got through Christmas keeping this news to themselves. I was obviously worried after speaking with my father, but optimistic it was caught in time since my father had gotten his PSA checked just six months prior. A week or so after the original bad news, I received another phone call from dad saying the cancer had spread to three places in his body, but he said there was a possibility they could do surgery and remove the cancer. That sounded great. There’s still a chance all would be well. Still feeling somewhat positive. Another week or so later we find out surgery isn’t a possibility because the cancer was in the bone. I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure chopping into a patient’s bones to remove cancer is a highly dangerous medical procedure. This was it. This was the final answer. There wasn't anything the doctors could do to stop the growth on a permanent basis. He was given 5-10 years to live. He lived for 5 years and 4 months.

It’s a funny thing, as I am sure many other people can attest to, how a terminal prognosis works. Once the initial shock of the prognosis wears off, the person with the terminal illness becomes the voice of reason and everyone else around him/her starts freaking the fuck out. Life becomes this ticking clock where you know there is a budgeted time left over, but you don’t know how much time has been budgeted. Sure, life is permanently that way, but it’s different when it is someone you love who has that ticking clock on their life and you try to fit everything you can into an uncertain amount of time. You think of all the things your parent will never participate in that will be big deals in your life. That’s how it selfishly worked for me. It is selfish, but I thought about these things. I thought he won’t see me get married probably (which he didn’t), he won’t see my sister get married (which he won't), he won’t meet his grandchildren (which he didn’t), and my mom will be a widow (which she is). All of a sudden your life becomes a countdown of sorts until something you know will happen, but really don't want to happen, actually does occur. It’s a very bizarre feeling and I know I am not the only one to ever experience this.

After the initial prognosis, we started going down the list of things he also wanted to do, but never got a chance to. I guess we’d call it a bucket list. My family went on a cruise, he traveled with my mom a lot and just generally got a much healthier outlook about life. It’s funny how that works too. Once he saw the end coming he was able to throw out all the other crap that most healthy people spend most of their life worrying about. It becomes sort of a “I know I’m going to die, so I really don’t give a crap” outlook on life. I think it liberated him in some ways to be able to focus on what was important. Another ironic part is he looked healthier than ever the first 1-2 years after his cancer diagnosis. He used to work out like crazy when healthy and he was in good shape, but probably too skinny and wiry for his own good because he didn’t have time to eat enough to properly maintain the workout he was keeping up. So after he was diagnosed with cancer he gained some weight, worked out less and looked a lot healthier, despite the fact he was dying of cancer.

The first couple of years weren’t so bad. I say that as a person who didn’t have terminal prostate cancer of course. I think he would agree, especially when compared to the last few years of his life. He got tired more quickly and had some pain at times in the beginning, but he was still able to work. I committed myself to coming home every summer from college to spend time with him, always mindful of that constant ticking clock which told me I didn’t have much time to see him. It’s that clock that was the worst for me. It was the intangible feeling THIS could be the last time for us to watch the MLB playoffs together, next time I see him he could have difficulty getting up the stairs or he would have trouble doing something he has always been able to do.

I honestly would be lying if I thought I could give you a timeline for his cancer in a medical sense and how the cancer progressed medically. There are two reasons for this. The first is I was away at college and he did not want me distracted. I wasn’t given complete information at all times other than being told how he felt. The second is I didn’t concern myself how the progression was going in a strictly medical sense. I wanted to know (a) how long he had left, (b) what the doctors had said at his recent appointment and (c) how he was feeling physically, emotionally, mentally. I don’t know the exact date he started chemotherapy, but I know how it made him feel, the effect it had on him, and when it stopped. Part of not knowing the minute details was a selfish desire in the hopes if I learned less about exactly what is happening, then it isn’t real. I was guilty of that. I was away at college and it was easy to compartmentalize it while I was worried about my grades.

There’s a magic number called a PSA, which stands for Prostate Specific Antigen. It tells the doctors how the cancer is growing and it can fluctuate even if you don’t have cancer. This is what I’ve been told. Basically PSA is relative for everyone and my father’s PSA stayed stable for two years. It didn’t go up for those two years, which was awesome. I would come home during the summer and he would be pretty normal, taking his medications and going to work. The problem is you don’t know how long this will last. Every doctor’s visit could bring bad news of a PSA increase. What was irritating was the next doctor’s visit could tell us if the increase from the previous doctor’s visit was permanent or just a slight increase that will decrease over time. I’m a person who likes definitive answers and this didn’t sit well with me. I hate uncertainty. He dealt with it fine though. He was upbeat (at least to me) and all was well at the doctor’s visits. “Well” being a relative term of course. Dad retired in October 2001, got a nice retirement party and was happy to be able to do what he wanted all day once he retired. This was the most liberated I can remember him being. He woke up, had coffee, spent the day running errands with my mom and enjoying life. He took a photography class and became a good photographer, researched our family’s history and became a really knowledgeable Civil War buff. I was happy for him, but always knew there would come a day when things changed.

Things changed around Winter 2001. His PSA began to go up slightly and the doctor said the cancer was growing. It had begun metastasizing. Long story short, the response to this growth was going to be chemotherapy, which is basically poisoning the human body to kill the cancer. This was the answer to combating the metastasis. I hated this answer. To me, this was like complaining of your arm hurting for a few days and the solution to be cutting off your arm. I saw chemotherapy as what happens when a terminally ill cancer patient doesn’t have any other options left over and doctors are just buying time and making the patient comfortable until death occurs. Maybe that was my non-medical expert opinion of it. This was the beginning of the end and we all knew it. He was given 5-10 years and it had been less than three years. That meant he would have to undergo chemotherapy for almost two years possibly even to meet the five year mark for survival. I was thinking the 5 year mark is where things would start going downhill. Damn me for being an optimist.

So Dad would go to chemo and then come back absolutely exhausted. It was around the beginning of 2002 that I started to see small signs of where this was ultimately headed. He started calling me the wrong person’s name a little more frequently. He called me by his twin brother’s name occasionally, but it got worse around this time. He referred to me as “Dad” (his father was still alive at this point) or even called me by my sister’s name. I’ve gotten called a girl’s name a few times in my life, but I never thought my father would be the one doing it. He did not make this mistake overly frequently, but it became noticeable. He grew tired (as well he should) doing everyday activities and he had to hire someone to take care of the lawn since he didn’t have the energy to do it. He and I always took care of the lawn together and he was adamant that no one was going to take care of his yard but him. Sure, our yard was mostly weeds with divots from me practicing golf, but it was our weeds and our divots. We mowed the weeds and forgot to replace the divots, that's how it was supposed to be. I knew that was a sort of turning point when he couldn’t do yardwork anymore. It was hard to see and I probably didn’t come home as often as I could/should from college. It wasn’t because I didn’t love him or didn’t want to be with him. I got depressed going home to see my family. I got excited to come home, then got depressed while I was there. I spent the summer after undergraduate graduation before graduate school renting an apartment at Appalachian State and basically having the time of my life. I was running away though. I knew it at the time too. My dad always claimed to understand when I spent a weekend at home that summer and then went back to the mountains even though I had nowhere specific to be.

I wasn’t a bad son and didn’t treat anyone poorly, but while my mom worked that summer taking my father to chemotherapy and my sister spent time with him, I wasn’t there as much. I’m still not sure if I feel guilt about this or not. The end didn’t scare me. It was the lead-up to the end that scared me. Just as you take joy in watching your child’s first step, first word, and the slow progressions of that child becoming more and more mature and adult-like as he/she ages, the very opposite of this progression is devastating and crippling in some ways. The man who used to play me at one-on-one basketball and throw the baseball with me in the front yard now needed a ramp instead of stairs to get up on the porch and couldn’t drive a manual transmission car anymore. Yeah, I knew this would happen at some point, but he was barely 50 years old and I had just gotten out of college. It felt like this was all happening a bit too early. I couldn’t see these things on a daily basis.

I recall coming home from school one weekend in Fall 2003. My mom had been mentioning about how my father would always talk to “Sam” while they were both undergoing chemotherapy. I had heard this “Sam” guys name from my dad a few times and had frankly paid enough attention to know the guy’s name, but not enough attention to delve further. My father’s best friend’s was named Sam and he had brain cancer, so I thought at first maybe it was that Sam. Anyway, that one weekend when I came home my mom informed me that “Sam” was Sam Mills, ex-Carolina Panthers linebacker and current coach for the Panthers (he sent my family a card after my father passed away and took the time to write something personal in it. Sam Mills was just a good guy). Sam Mills had recently been diagnosed with intestinal cancer. His prognosis was grim, much like my father's prognosis. While my mom wanted to talk about Sam’s personal life, I was thrilled he got to see one of my favorite Panthers players (while in chemotherapy…I was thrilled to know my father could attend chemo with Sam Mills. It sounds insensitive to think and write down) and started peppering my dad with questions about the current season from Sam Mills' point of view, none of which he could answer. You are sitting in a room with Sam Mills, why aren’t you asking him questions about the current team, about his experiences in the NFL, or pretty much anything sports-related? The idea was unfathomable to me.

My father explained to me they had never discussed football once while at chemotherapy. They always talked about their respective experience with cancer, life in general, and about their families. Sam Mills was an NFL position coach (Linebackers coach at the time for Carolina) and my dad didn’t talk about the current season (in which Carolina was eventually headed to the Super Bowl) or his career with him? Sam Mills? The same passionate guy I saw on the field for several years with Carolina and New Orleans didn’t bring this up? My dad never really explained to me, but I figured out pretty quickly why they never discussed football or Mills’ career. It wasn’t important really. What was important was coming back to chemo the next week and the week after that and the week after that and seeing the same people at the same time on a weekly basis. Monotony and repetition became a form of progress. If you are back the next week, that means you are winning the battle at that point and that’s all that matters. You are present. I remember people used to tell my father it was good to see him and he always responded with, “It’s good to be seen."

By Winter 2004, that’s all that mattered to him, just being seen. The chemotherapy wasn’t working as much anymore. He missed the second half of the Carolina-New England Super Bowl due to physical complications from the chemotherapy during the week. He no longer responded within a day or so to my emails about possible job opportunities I found. It was decided by his doctors that continuing with chemotherapy was probably going to be counterproductive at this point. Ultimately though it was my dad’s call to stop the chemotherapy. The cancer was growing and wasn’t going to stop. He was tired and didn’t want to deal with chemotherapy anymore. At this point he no longer could go upstairs. His daily devotional still lays on his office desk bookmarked to March 2004, the date when he last made it upstairs to his office to read it. He had a hospital bed moved downstairs and moved around the house in a wheel chair. When I graduated from grad school in May 2004, he wasn’t able to attend my graduation because he couldn’t travel at that point. I came home May 10, 2004 after graduation and he could barely talk. Hospice was making visits nearly every day to help take care of him. Cancer had beaten him at this point. We all knew that. He knew that. Time was his enemy. We just had to be around in order to be with him.

May 18th was a Tuesday. We had dinner and my father could barely move his mouth at this point. He still could make faces at the prospect of eating my mom’s cooking though…a 24 year long running joke continued until the end. My father’s corny jokes became more creative at this point given the degree of difficulty in physically being able to make the joke. After dinner, my mother informed my sister and me that my father was hanging on because he thought he had to. That he was ready to die, but was waiting for some approval from us that we will be fine. I have no idea how she came upon this information. I don’t know if my father told my mother, if it was information understood between them in only a way people who have been married for 26 years can understand or the hospice nurse told my mom. Either way, it wasn’t happening. I wasn’t giving him permission to die. “Fuck that,” I said. “No way, I’m not giving him permission to go. I will absolutely not do that. I’m not ready.” That's a direct quote. My sister said something to the effect of, “But Ben, he is ready.” These words touched me so much, I stormed out of the room, went back downstairs, ignored further attempts to talk about it and finished watching Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks throw a perfect game against the Braves with my dad somewhat focused on the game in front of the television in his wheelchair. Yeah, after a lifetime of watching Braves games together, the last game we saw together the Braves didn’t get a runner on-base.

Ultimately, at the end of the baseball game I saw where he was at physically. I was holding back words and preventing my father from achieving some sense of complete peace with his fate. I was doing this because I was more scared than he was. He needed to know we’d be fine without him and I needed to lie to him and say he had my permission to die. Well, he didn’t have my permission but I had to give it to him anyway. So I did. I went downstairs with the idea of speaking to him and giving him permission to die. I thought he would fight me when I gave him permission and he would say, “I’m not ready to go. I’ll be around next week.” Then he would have a bold look in his eye and I would know he was still ready to fight. Maybe that’s what I hoped. A part of me also thought he’d look at me and start yelling at me for wanting him dead. I could see him screaming at me, “I RAISED YOU AND NOW THINGS GET A LITTLE ROUGH, SO YOU ASK ME TO DIE SO YOU CAN MOVE ON? SCREW YOU! BY THE WAY, YOU WERE ADOPTED, WE LAUGHED AS WE PUT YOUR DOG TO SLEEP AND WE LOVED YOUR SISTER MORE THAN YOU!” Granted, he couldn’t speak too much at this point, but there was an outside chance this was the worst practical joke ever played on someone. It didn’t happen that way. He was ready to go and I spoke to him telling him it was okay to be ready. During the end of the conversation, he whispered to me, “I’m sorry for leaving you with the Braves.” One last joke about Randy Johnson’s perfect game and the Braves seeming ability to frustrate us at times. I told him it was fine, but I was lying. I preferred he did not leave me with the Braves. I went upstairs and spoke with my sister for an hour and eventually went to bed. I thought we’d have another week or so of my father around the house. It wasn't to be that way.

My father passed away the next morning at 10:34am. I was woken up and was told if I wanted to talk to him while he was still conscious I needed to do so now. So I got up and we stood by his hospital bed downstairs as he took his last few breaths. It was really sad and there was no last words really, he just slowly stopped breathing. When the funeral home came to get his body our family dog, Toby, refused to let them take my father’s body. He sat on my father’s legs and intermittently howled and barked at their attempts to take his body to the funeral home. Apparently Toby did not ever have the “It’s all right to die” conversation with my father and didn’t feel okay with it all. The funeral was planned by my father, so there wasn’t much my family had to do. It must be difficult to plan your own funeral and think the next time you see the casket you picked out, you won’t see it because you will be dead. That’s why I want to be cremated and have my ashes thrown in Kim Kardashian’s face at a social event. I figure I won’t have to be buried and can get my 15 minutes of fame after I die.

I got the opportunity to speak at my dad’s funeral. Honestly, I enjoyed it. It may sound weird, but the opportunity to speak about my father and what he meant to me was a chance I would never pass up. I spoke for 10 minutes. It didn’t feel that long and fortunately the organist did not start to play me off stage at the five minute mark. People tell me they could never speak at their parent’s funeral, but I wanted to talk for two hours. You see how much I write here. I love an audience, especially when discussing a topic close to my heart. I hated the circumstances, but I enjoyed sharing memories of my father.

Not to do much navel-gazing, but it isn’t the big events anymore where I miss him the most. You do, but for really big events I tend not to think about things like that because you are pretty busy. It is the small things you miss the most. This sounds stupid, but I really wish he could have seen the movie “Anchorman.” He would have loved that movie. I thought about him just a bit on my wedding day, not much more than that mostly because I was so focused on the ceremony going well, making sure I didn’t have to visit the restroom during the wedding (it’s the little things, but if I had to piss or crap during the wedding I can’t imagine how awkward/uncomfortable that would have been). As we all know, when life is going fast, there isn’t much time to think. The little reminders over the last 8 years are the hardest. I want him around to meet my wife, to help my mom decide between a shower door or shower curtain, to help her replace the front door and to see his grandson. If he were here I wouldn’t have to answer the question from a five year old about why his grandfather isn’t coming up to visit him with his grandmother. There's no solid answer in preparation for that question.

My mom has his office the exact same way that he left it. It doesn’t take an amateur psychologist to figure why she hasn’t packed his stuff up or cleaned the desk off. It actually sounds sad to think his stuff hasn’t been touched, but it is actually pretty disgusting. You’d be surprised at how much dust can accumulate over a few years. Even the spiders and cockroaches avoid his desk for fear their legs will get stuck in the film of dust laying over most of the objects still on his desk. The pens don’t write anymore, but still that desk is there with a book about dealing with impending death and the grief that goes along with it sitting on the left side. As far as I know, he’s the only one who ever read it. The bookcase has awkward pictures of me and my sister as we were growing up, pictures of our family, and plaques for all sorts of events/achievements. I’m not sure how he could even do any work in his office without laughing at the picture of me as a late blooming 15 year old with spots of acne on my face. Perhaps he got his laughs in when I wasn’t looking. Still, the desk sits there as a dusty memorial of sorts.

My father and I used to watch as many Braves games together as possible. He would get home from work and I would ask him if he was going to be able to watch the Braves game with me. It wasn’t a “thing” at the time, but in retrospect it sort of was a “thing.” I preferred to watch games with him more than I enjoyed watching them with my friends. Even to this day, sometimes it feels weird watching a Braves game without him around. You would think I’d be over that by now. He told me towards the end of his life he regretted we never had a beer together. Beer just tore his stomach apart by the time I got to legal drinking age and it was one of the drinks he had to avoid later in his life for that reason. I told him we did have a beer together when watching the Braves game, but just not in the literal sense. It was a terribly cheesy line, and I do realize that, but I only think of my really good lines after an hour or two of thinking about them some more.

Even 8 years after his death, I feel silly for still missing him. He’s been gone so long, so much has happened. Everyone’s moved on but you. At a certain point you tell yourself you should stop thinking about it. It sounds reasonable in theory, but hard to do in practice. When NC State made the Sweet Sixteen this year, I couldn’t help but think how excited that would have made dad. He would love Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie, while being petrified Mark Gottfried was in some way cheating or working around NCAA rules to bring in his great 2012 recruiting class. We used to talk sports a fair amount and even to this day I see a sports story and think “Man, I wish I could talk about that with my dad.” Sports have tied us together permanently in that way. I will think of him during a sporting event and wonder what he would have thought.

My dad wasn’t my best friend. He was my father and of course I think he was awesome. There are many quirky/funny stories I could tell you about him, but 90% of people think that their dad is awesome and have similar stories. That’s why I will spare you these stories. I’m not Bill Simmons. I didn’t call my father after every victory or defeat waiting for him to say something funny so I can tell everyone. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, of course. He spent most of my youth working hard, I spent much of my teen years wanting to be away from any parental oversight, and I spent most of the years he had cancer in college away from home. We did play golf together quite frequently throughout college and when I was younger. So we did play sports and attend sports together. We attended Game 3 of the 1993 Conference Semifinals between the Hornets and Knicks. It was a double overtime game and probably rates as one of my top sporting events attended. It definitely rates as the loudest crowd I have ever heard live at a sporting event. I saw a replay of the game on NBA TV a few months ago and just couldn’t stop watching. While watching the game on television I kept thinking this is what cancer robbed me of, while also having a great memory of being there with my father. This is the time we would both have had to attend these sporting events. I’m out of college and he would be retired. Would we attend a bunch of sporting events together? I don’t know. It’s entirely possible, but I wish the option was still there.

I hate prostate cancer. I hate it with a passion. No one really likes cancer, so that sounds obvious. I am tied to prostate cancer in a way though. The odds of me getting prostate cancer are really, really high. My dad had it, his twin brother had it, and their father had it. Only my father died from it. So I have a good chance of surviving it if caught early enough. I am having my PSA checked every two years until I’m 40, even though my doctor says this is overkill. It doesn’t matter to me. If I am unlucky enough to receive a prostate cancer diagnosis at some point in my life though I am going to absolutely kick its ass. I’m going to kick its ass for my father, for myself, for my wife, for my sister and my mother. I will retire with my wife, meet my grandchildren, and talk sports with them until they are tired of talking to me or my mind starts to go and I become convinced Brian McCann was a pitcher. I couldn’t do anything for my father in helping him beat the disease, but I’m going to ensure it won’t defeat me the way it defeated him. This is the best way I know to honor him, knowing I was able to do anything and everything that cancer robbed him of participating in with us. I’ll take my children and grandchildren to a game and have a beer with them. Maybe I’ll even buy an extra one.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Chasing It": Where Good Writers and Directors Go Bad

"The Sopranos" is probably one of my favorite television shows of all-time. The worst episode during the "The Sopranos" run was undoubtedly "Chasing It." That's my opinion of course, but if this were the first episode of the show I watched then I probably would not have watched the rest of the series. It's not that it is bad, plot-wise, but it is bad in that the writing is just so terribly inconsistent, lazy, and completely different from anything other episodes in the series. I remember watching this episode and wondering how I happened to watch a "Sopranos" episode that was so disconnected from the rest of the series. I didn't recognize some of the characters and their motives didn't make sense. Mostly, I am talking about the detour of Tony Soprano into a hardcore gambler, which I feel was contrary to the Tony Soprano we had come to know over the previous/following 80+ episodes. Major spoilers ahead, naturally.

What's even more interesting to me is this episode was directed by Tim Van Patten who has directed every really, really good HBO show at some point (Game of Thrones, Deadwood, Sex and the City---I know...women liked it and the show was well-made, The Wire, The Pacific, Boardwalk Empire) and he helped write the script for my favorite "Sopranos" episode ever, "Pine Barrens." The guy knows how to direct. Then to make matters worse Matthew Weiner wrote this episode. He executive produced, and is the head-writer and show-runner for "Mad Men," a show that is known for being very well-written. He wrote for "The Sopranos" and he's always seemed like an excellent writer to me. Yet, he is responsible for the worst sack-of-shit script in the history of "The Sopranos." How can that be? I can't answer that. What I can do is point out the inconsistencies and why this is the worst episode in the history of the "Sopranos" series.

Some background on this episode for those who don't recall "The Sopranos" episodes by heart, and really, only losers like me probably do. "Chasing It" was the fourth episode of Season 6 Part 2 (the reason this wasn't Season 7 makes sense only to only HBO and possibly some accountants, since I am assuming there was a financial reason of sorts to not call the last nine episodes of the series Season 7 instead of Season 6 Part 2). The previous episode was "Remember When" where Tony realized he hates Paulie, but keeps him around because Paulie showers him with great gifts like a new cappuccino maker. Tony was becoming more and more narcissistic and separated from his captains and the rest of his New Jersey crew. Through the entire previous episode it appears Tony wants to kill Paulie and there are flashbacks and callbacks to previous hits Tony and his crew had performed through the series as if Paulie is destined for death by Tony's hand. Tony doesn't kill Paulie, but Tony is still only out for himself. That's always clear. The turn Tony takes in "Chasing It" still doesn't make sense in the context of this previous episode. Here are my issues with this episode:

1. Tony becomes a degenerate gambler in "Chasing It." Tony has always hated degenerate gamblers and he has never shown that he could somehow have a gambling addiction or problems with money as it relates to gambling. Part of Tony's business is to take advantage of others who need money and then weasel his way into their business by becoming a "partner" in the business and eventually sucking the life out of that business. There is even a storyline in Season 2 where Tony allows a sporting goods owner with a gambling problem play a high-roller game of poker until he is severely in debt (the sporting goods owner is played by Robert Patrick). Then Tony destroys his business, ruins his professional and personal life, and the guy eventually completely moves to the other side of the country. The point is that Tony is a huge hypocrite, but he never showed the propensity for becoming addicted to gambling or chasing after gambling wins during the entire run of the show, except for this episode. Season 4 finds him getting very involved in horse racing, but only because he thinks he is good at picking horses, he wants to fuck with Ralphie's cash flow (if you haven't watched the show I won't explain this because you are probably already really lost), and because he is infatuated with animals. Tony never has a gambling problem before or after "Chasing It."

2. Nancy Sinatra makes a cameo appearance signing a song that (surprise!) just happened to be on the latest CD she was releasing. Her serenading of Phil Leotardo was disturbing in nearly every sense of the word. It felt tacked-on and a cheap way to promote her new CD. This show needs to be better than this. This was worse than David Lee Roth showing up at a poker game or Eric Mangini happening to be eating at the same restaurant as Tony Soprano.

3. Tony wants to use $300,000 of the profit from Carmela's spec house sale to fund a "sure thing" gamble because the kicker for an NFL team is injured and the backup kicker (more on this in a minute) is starting. She denies this request for Tony to use his half of the money and then they later get in a very heated exchange. Wikipedia says they eventually reconcile, but I don't remember it that way exactly. It seems like their reconciliation takes place off screen and I don't remember them actually having a reconciliation. This further speaks to the bizarre nature of this episode in that I don't recall Tony and Carmela ever making up. What's worse is that for a show that is always doing callbacks and different characters are holding anger or grudges over entire seasons, in the very next episode ("Walk Like a Man") Tony and Carmela are perfectly fine with each other. It's like the incredibly heated exchange just never happened and not in the "it never happened" way that Carmela and Tony usually treat events, but like it really never happened. The first time I watched "Chasing It" I felt like I was dreaming and this wasn't the real "Sopranos" episode for the week. I can't explain the feeling. Then in the next episode A.J. started whining more and in the episode after that Tony kills Christopher. It was a rough three weeks for me. This episode was like being drunk and trying to watch "The Sopranos" for the first time. It didn't make sense to me.

4. It's even more telling the worst part of this episode where Tony is given an addiction he has never had before is the description of the sports games Tony is gambling on. At least get the details right, which Matthew Weiner failed to do. So along with making Tony addicted to gambling, about 10 minutes of research went into detailing the type of gambling Tony was participating in. Here are the errors in this episode in regard to gambling and sports:

-An NFL team was starting its backup kicker. NFL teams don't have a backup kicker unless it is the punter. If an NFL team has an injured kicker they will replace that kicker with a free agent kicker during the week between games and most likely not replace the place kicker with the punter. Also, "a rookie kicker?" It's such a lazy bit of writing. Teams don't have backup kickers and starting a rookie kicker wouldn't change the line as much as Tony claims the line changed. Eventually, the game was a blowout, which means the kicker had nothing to do with the team winning or losing, unless he missed seven field goals in the game.

-Anyone who watched Seinfeld knows the Puerto Rican Day Parade takes place during the summer. A.J. was broken up with (very randomly I might add) at this parade, and yet, the NFL games that Tony was betting on took place during the Fall. How long does it take when writing a script to ensure that two events you are portraying in the show take place at the same time as each other? Apparently this research takes longer than Matthew Weiner had to turn this script in.

-To make matters worse, Tony bets on an NBA game (which one I don't recall), which also takes place during the Fall/Winter/Spring months, so the Puerto Rican Day Parade would not take place during these months. A little research is all I ask.

-When they show Buffalo-Tampa Bay playing on television, neither team has even close to the uniform color the teams have in real life. Again, it's small, but when the entire storyline of Tony becoming addicted to gambling revolves around these bets, shouldn't the bets come off as somewhat realistic? It's bad enough the viewer has to accept that Tony has randomly become a gambling addict.

5. Hesh, who is an advisor to Tony and was also an advisor to Tony's father, has a girlfriend apparently. We've never met her, but they appear to really love each other. Naturally, because we just met her she ends up dying at the end of the episode. Tony then pays Hesh back some money he owed Hesh (you know, because Tony is now the one who has to take out loans rather than playing the role of the loan shark that he had played during the entire series run) and isn't sensitive enough to Hesh's girlfriend dying. Tony is a mean person seems to be the lesson. In defense of Tony and the audience, this girlfriend is just thrust upon us all simply to die. She isn't a character but a plot point. So it's hard for the audience, and therefore Tony, to feel great sympathy for Hesh since we never met this girlfriend of his prior to this episode.

6. Then there is the storyline where A.J.'s girlfriend (Blanca) breaks up with him and this begins a downward spiral where he goes from a useless, annoying character in the background to a useless, annoying character in the forefront. The show always played the "surrogate son" role better with Christopher than it played Tony's relationship with his own son. A.J. went from an example of Tony Soprano having to deal with personal bullshit caused by his family to a character the writers often had no clue what to do with. The same thing went for Meadow's character. She would show up randomly and go to the pool or warn Tony and Carmela that A.J. was depressed and then exit stage-left for the rest of the episode. A.J. eventually tried to kill himself after Blanca breaks up with him, but this storyline is a great example of the show not knowing when to get rid of characters who had outlived their usefulness for plotting purposes (Dr. Melfi is another great example).

I read the AV Club for most reviews of television shows and here is a review of this episode that semi-defends it's presence in the television universe. I can't defend this episode's presence since the main premise, Tony's gambling, runs counter (in my mind) to everything we have learned about him. Here's what a generous "B+" review of the show says about "Chasing It." And yes, I am sort of reviewing a review of a television show. And another yes, I usually really like how Todd VanDerWerff reviews television shows. I just think he graded this one incorrectly.

Of the nine episodes that make up the final batch of The Sopranos, “Chasing It” is the only one that I’ve heard even mild criticism for from the show’s fan base. 

These complaints are based on the fact this episode portrays Tony Soprano in a way the series never had portrayed him until point. I'm not even including the whole "waste of our time" component where the show is six episodes from ending and we get an episode that barely moves the main plot ahead.

Indeed, it’s quite a good episode of The Sopranos.

If "good" is defined as "shoddily researched," "poorly plotted," and "takes the main character and changes his personality for one episode-only" then this is definitely a good episode.

The chief criticism of the episode is that Tony would never have gotten involved this deeply in gambling. (Indeed, at one point earlier in the show’s run, he cautions against how gambling can take over your life and make you do stupid things.)

Tony several times cautions against how gambling can take over a person's life. He was prone to hypocrisy, but he was always the loan shark not the other guy taking the loan. That was the entire character of Tony Soprano. He was a shark who ruined people's lives around him and rarely ruined his own life. He would not have gotten this deep into gambling because it goes against his character. In the words of Jason Segel, that's the only argument I need. Tony isn't a degenerate gambler. He makes his money off other degenerate gamblers.

This is a criticism I’ve never bought.

Well, pony up some cash because you gotta buy it. Tony is the one who makes money off gamblers, not the one who gets deep into gambling debt.

The show has so successfully established that at this point, the Tony who survived being shot by Uncle Junior is a rasher, more impulsive Tony that I largely buy his giving in to this particular vice.

True, except for the fact his impulse in the previous episode was to kill Paulie and he didn't act on his impulses. In the very next episode Christopher rails on his own father, Dickie, for being a drunk and drug addict and Tony just lets Christopher criticize his dead father even though Dickie was Tony's hero. Tony loved Dickie Moltisanti and he allows Christopher to call him a druggie and drunk. If Tony were impulsive he wouldn't have let these words stand. In addition, in the same episode Tony sits Christopher down and talks to him about how he needs to stay on top of his crew and stop being frequently absent because people are noticing. There were beefs erupting because Christopher wasn't around enough. Rather than knocking the shit out of Christopher, Tony sits down and talks to him. Tony also doesn't beat the shit out of his son and gives him time to bust out of the funk he is in after Blanca broke up with him. Tony even allows Carmela to convince him that therapy is a good idea for A.J. despite the fact Tony doesn't think much of his own therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi and had a bad experience when Meadow (their daughter) went to therapy during an episode. Meadow's therapist tried to convince her to drop out of college and this pissed Tony off.

So Tony is impulsive and more rash, but he's only more impulsive and more rash when it serves the purposes of the writers. That's part of my problem with "Chasing It" and that's why I never buy Tony would give in to this particular vice of gambling. He's supposedly more impulsive, but he is only impulsive in regard to matters he has always been impulsive on...of which gambling isn't included.

Plus, look at the things he’s wagering: The horse he bets on in the race is named “Meadow’s Gold,” something he considers a lucky omen, even if said horse eventually loses. Tony is betting that he’s built up such a large lead that the universe can never come calling,

While part of this may be true, this one bet isn't what got him in gambling trouble. It was a string of bad gambles that I find outside of his character.

that his survival—and, indeed, his continuing to thrive—is a “sure thing,” as sure as that Chargers quarterback with the hairline fracture in his leg going down.

While I can buy this, Tony has never shown any interest in gambling on football prior to this, other than to find out how much Paulie/Christopher were making per week that could be kicked into his own pocket. Again, gambling was a source of income for Tony, not a vice. It always had been that way until this episode came around.

If those first 12 episodes are about a man who desperately tries to change, who tries to hold off his own worst impulses to become something “better” (whatever that means for Tony Soprano), then these last nine episodes are about how that man, having realized how much less exciting it is to be that responsible adult and to commit himself to his marriage and the prospect of change, cycles into self-destruction.

I perceive these episodes the same way, but it doesn't change the fact Tony's gambling addiction is a one episode addiction. It shows up and disappears in one episode. He isn't cycling into self-destruction, but the writers are randomly assigning him a self-destructive behavior for one episode only and then moving on. A person doesn't cycle into self-destructive gambling and then just magically stop without some major change in attitude or invention, neither of which Tony undergoes.

In that sense, a gambling problem is incredibly appropriate: Tony Soprano is gambling with his life, and he’s building up a bigger and bigger debt to the house. 

It's incredibly not appropriate because it is a temporary cycle of self-destruction motivated by what the writers want and not caused by any character development. I can buy cycles of self-destruction, but the cycles must continue to be believed and not resolved magically in a single episode.

Hesh, more than anyone, understands how deeply Tony could be burying himself with gambling and his lifestyle. (At one point, he rants to his girlfriend, Renata, about the cost of Tony’s boat, which is massive.) Yet Tony doesn’t want to hear it. He’s not interested in the ways he could be dooming himself, not when there’s a great big present to go out and live in.

So where does this Tony that is deeply burying himself in gambling go after this episode? He pays Hesh back and then this deeply indebted Tony disappears and goes back to the Tony Soprano we know from the other 85 episodes.

Throughout, he keeps coming up with new funds, then losing them on bets. What he’s doing here isn’t really addiction, per se, nor is he really desperate to find a way back to solvency. 

So Tony has a gambling problem (as acknowledged above), but not an addiction? I'm sure there is a difference but I fail to understand it. It's still a new Tony Soprano for one episode.

He promised Marie he’d help out where he could, but he bristles at giving her the substantial sum it would cost to go to Maine, both because his gambling losses would make a payout of $100,000 hurt more than usual, and because he just doesn’t care all that much, beyond the theoretical. I really do believe in an earlier season, Tony would have hemmed and hawed and eventually given Marie that money. (Then again, in an earlier season, he wouldn’t have lost so much gambling.)

Because it wasn't in his nature to develop a gambling problem. Tony never had a gambling problem before or after this episode. See the issue? The gambling is just a random character issue the writers lazily threw into one episode. VanDerWerff knows this episode has an inconsistent characterization of Tony Soprano even if he can't admit it. It's such lazy writing on the part of Matthew Weiner.

This is still an okay episode of "The Sopranos" (it's just a great show), but I can't pretend it is well-written or doesn't have major flaws simply because it is probably my favorite show. There's no defending this episode and I have always been surprised critics don't absolutely hate it. I don't hate it (because I love the show), but the characterization and writing is shit. Some would disagree with me I guess.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Going Down the Rabbit Hole with "Like Crazy"

I tend to over-analyze a lot of things if I allow myself to do it. I do this with movies sometimes. Generally I don't often allow myself to over-think a movie too far after I have seen it, but I do make exceptions. I saw the film "Like Crazy" probably a year or so ago. It was a good film and I would recommend it to people who enjoy this type of movie. It's not really a romantic comedy, mostly because it has a brain and doesn't try to oversimplify what the audience is seeing or try to explain to the audience what each character is thinking. At it's heart, it is a romantic movie though. The movie got me thinking a lot about life choices and how what you really believe you want isn't necessarily what you really want. You may wonder why a romantic movie led me to start doing some deep-thinking. Well, I do too, but here I am doing some deep-thinking about life and life decisions.

Here's a brief synopsis of the movie with major spoilers so you can understand exactly what I am talking about. An American boy played by Anton Yelchin playing "Jacob" (he's that guy you saw in "Star Trek" playing Chekov and was in "Alpha Dog" and the re-make of "Fright Night") and a British girl named "Anna" played by Felicity Jones. You will recognize her because she has teeth that look too big for her mouth and will have an as-to-be-determined part in "The Amazing Spiderman 2." These two young kids fall in love quickly as young folks are prone to do, Anna is in the United States on a student visa so the love is temporary, they try to postpone her eventual departure back to the United Kingdom, and finally she overstays her visa, is forced to leave, and can't get back into the United States until the United States government gives her permission. And no, the idea of smuggling her back into the United States was never broached in this movie. The rest of the movie consists of two events occurring over a few year time span:

1. Anna and Jacob both move on with their lives.

2. Anna and Jacob both try to get back with each other.

By the way, they are moving on while still trying to eventually build a future together at the same time. You can probably see where the act of moving on and still trying to be together could get cumbersome. They both want to, and do, get married to each other, but Jacob won't move to the United Kingdom and she can't move to the United States. Through the entire movie Jacob is kind of a dick in that he isn't willing to move to the United Kingdom, but that's beside the point of where I am eventually going with all of this. They both begin relationships with other people (while still married) and then become jealous of these relationships. Anna gets proposed to and gets a great job, while Jacob starts a relationship with a girl played by Jennifer Lawrence and spends most of his time waiting for his life to start, which would conceivably happen when Anna comes back to the United States. At the heart, they are two people married to each other (figuratively and literally) while also pursing other relationships.

Anna and Jacob have this mutual long-term goal of living a life together while living their life in the short-term. You get the feeling at no point do either of them sit back and wonder if they really want to be together anymore. Both Anna and Jacob know they are committed to spending their lives together. They are committed to each other because they committed to being together. The commitment to being together becomes the sole strand tying them together. After a few years, a friend of Anna's parents has worked hard enough to get her legally back into the United States. It's clear at this point she isn't entirely sure coming back to the United States is what she wants, but it's what she has committed to doing, so seemingly without thinking she leaves her boyfriend, quits her job, and leaves for the United States. Jacob is happy because he didn't have to leave the United States and Anna is coming to live with him. He picks her up at the airport, but at this point it is two strangers meeting with each other at an airport. It's kind of awkward.

They have both sacrificed a lot (well, mostly Anna sacrificed a lot if I am being honest) and now they got what they wanted. They should be happy, but they aren't. It's a very formal and professional reunion and as Jacob brings her back to his loft it seems like he is showing his new roommate around and not like he has just been reunited with the love of his life. It's still very awkward because neither really knows where to start because they barely feel like they know each other at his point. It had been a couple of years since they fell in love, and time, plus space, has seemed to change them both significantly. Finally, they decide to take a shower. Anna and Jacob step in the shower, hug, and both have very apprehensive looks on their face and the movie ends.

It's a frustrating, open-ended kind of ending that many movie watchers simply won't like. They may prefer resolution. I think there was resolution though. Anna and Jacob are committed to making it work out with each other, but at some point one of them will bow out of the relationship. It's over and neither person can admit to it quite yet. They had become two different people fighting for a cause that time and the natural change that comes with maturity has altered for them. They always planned and thought they wanted to be together, but didn't take the time to sit down and actually think about whether this is what both of them wanted. This fierce commitment over a long period of time to what you think you want without actually sitting back and thinking if you still want what you think you want is what got me thinking.

Ever since I was 12 or 13 years old, I wanted to be an attorney. I read every John Grisham novel and I watched "The Practice." I loved the idea of being an attorney and couldn't wait to graduate college and go to law school. It's what I wanted at the age of 12-13 and I never really thought about whether this is really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life or not. I had no other ideas about what to do with my life, so screw it, I am going to stick to being an attorney. When people asked me what profession I wanted to pursue, I told them I wanted to be an attorney. It was my future profession. My neighbor told me I would never get in law school if I went to Appalachian State which only further fueled my desire to prove him wrong. I majored in Economics in college because my academic advisor told me law schools really look at the skill set that an Economics major can provide. I passed up interning at a law firm in my hometown during the summer because I already knew I wanted to be an attorney and the internship was unpaid. It was probably a bad move because I could have gotten an idea of what being an attorney actually entails if I had taken the internship. Still, I needed cash to pay for gas, food, and all the other shit that was important to a 18-21 year old college student. I worked during the summer to buy stuff. I didn't have time to work for no money.

My commitment to being an attorney never wavered. I got advice from other attorneys on what to put on my law school applications, earned good grades in college, and received a plan from my academic advisor on how to achieve my goal of going to law school. At no point did anyone ask me why I wanted to go to law school. Not "why" did I want to go. That's easy. I wanted to be an attorney. But "WHY" did I want to be an attorney and go to law school. Why is that what I wanted for my life? Don't get me wrong, I don't blame anyone for mistakes I've made in my life or where my life path has taken me. It's all on me, but I think the fact no one ever asked me or questioned WHY I was choosing that life path speaks to how the dream of a 13 year old boy can turn into the wrong career path for a 22 year man. I never had to explain exactly what kind of attorney I wanted to be or what it was about law that interested me. I probably should have sat down and thought about this, but never took the time. Going to law school became a commitment and I was committed to this commitment. It was happening whether I thought about whether I wanted it or not.

This is part of where "Like Crazy" took me. I saw myself in that movie. I saw myself living my short-term life heading in a completely different direction from where my supposed long-term goal was taking me. I took Economics classes and didn't particularly hate or enjoy them, but I really enjoyed the Political Science classes that I was taking. That didn't matter though. There was no money in Political Science, and remember, I was going to law school. I couldn't be bothered to take the LSAT not somewhat hungover, but I was very, very dedicated to this dream I had as a 13 year old. I wanted money and I wanted to be an attorney, even if I didn't seem to particularly enjoy the life path I had put myself on (which I didn't know at the time of course...this is all hindsight). I got into a law school I was less than enthused about attending and was my very last choice, but it was all a means to an end. It was a law school and I had gotten in, so I was going whether I liked the campus and school or not. In "Like Crazy," Anna and Jacob had a lot of signs along the way to their eventual reunion telling them maybe this wasn't the right path for them to be together. They never updated what their younger selves wanted or took enough time to seriously contemplate if they were making the right move to try and be together. They reminded me of me. There were small signs along the way I should have re-thought my goal. I didn't like the law school I was attending, which should have been a bright neon warning, but it wasn't. I was absolutely dreading going to law school, which isn't how it should feel. I think I didn't have enough resolve to look inside myself and ask myself what I truly wanted out of life. Maybe I had the resolve but couldn't be bothered to make a change so late in my college career.

I did end up getting into law school, though as previously stated, I attended the school I had the least interest in (after all, I wanted to be an attorney so I had to sacrifice). I stayed up at my undergraduate institution over the 2002 summer until I absolutely had to leave for law school and left as many weekends as possible from law school (maybe 1-2 weekends per month...a lot, but not more excessive than my fellow first year classmates) to go live the life that I had started living before I went to law school. I wasn't homesick or anything because I never wanted to go back and live in my hometown. My father was sick, so I wanted to be with him, and my close friends all lived in different areas of the state of North Carolina, so I wanted to hang out with them. It was about November 2002 when I realized it wasn't working for me. I wasn't happy. I hated law school and it was showing in my work. I was working as hard as everyone else and it wasn't showing in my grades (though I wasn't doing so badly I was failing classes), while I had no passion for what I was doing. The writing was on the wall and it was a shitty place to be in knowing you are probably just playing out the string until your first year is over. I knew I was not coming back for my second year of law school, but I had a few months to think about what I really wanted to do and hope maybe I would start to love learning about law.

The law classes were very dry and my cubicle was located in a depressing, dark basement where I felt like my life was rotting away while surrounded by law books. I was never good at sitting down for hours and studying and this had never betrayed me because I always attended class and learned the material when it was presented. That wasn't working for me in law school and even the outlines I created (basically a long list of everything learned in the course) as I learned the material weren't helping. I'm a pretty outspoken and not shy person, but the school used the Socratic Method of teaching, which completely did not work for me. Basically this method involves standing up and being quizzed by your professor about the material covered as homework, except the professor tries to confuse you.

For a person who loves chasing different strands of thought while writing, I have a very difficult time learning while chasing multiple strands. So when the professor would stand me up to recite a court case and discuss it with me, it became more of a verbal joust (this was the experience of pretty much everyone who got stood up to discuss a case) about the case and what the right "answer" may have been more than it was an exercise in learning about the subject at hand. I hated the Socratic Method. Stand me up and have me recite knowledge I already know or how it applies to the case and I am fine, but when I am stood up after reading a court case whose ramifications I am not supposed to be fully aware of yet didn't work for me. It seemed like a game of "gotcha" more than a learning environment. One day when my Contract teacher stood me up to recite and discuss a case, so I essentially waved my white flag. It wasn't my proudest or most memorable moment, though I do remember it fairly well.

My Contracts professor stood me up and asked about a case we had to read and write a brief on. I recited the facts of the case first, but the ruling and the reason for the ruling had absolutely baffled me the night before. Naturally, this is the case where I have to talk about it in front of the entire class. Naturally. So when I got past the facts of the case and to the part where he led me down the wrong path as to the reason for the ruling I stopped the conversation with my exasperation. This was the Spring semester and I had been stood up to recite a case enough to know I was fucked and I wasn't smart enough to understand the case until someone explained it to me. I don't remember the facts of the case or the ruling, but the exchange went something like this,

(Professor) "Tell me how we got the ruling and why this case was ruled the way it was." 

(Me) "I don't get how this ruling came about. It doesn't make sense to me."

(Professor) "Well there is a new precedent being set here. Explain to me about that precedent."

(Me) "I have no idea what the new precedent is, all I know is... (then I gave my takeaway from the case)"

(Professor) "So the conclusion you think we have reached is...

(Me getting flustered) Again, I have no idea. My conclusion is probably wrong (I give my takeaway again). That's just my takeaway from the case and why I think the judge ruled the way he did. Am I right?"

(Professor laughs at me) "You may be right. Why do you think the judge didn't rule in favor of the defendant?"

(Me) "Because my takeaway from the case says he ruled for the plaintiff because....I know what I know and I only know why I think know what I know (at this point the class is laughing pretty hard). Normally, I'm wrong though."

(Professor starts chuckling) "So are you right about the precedent this case set?"

(Me) "Isn't that supposed to be what you are telling me? I don't know if I am right if no one will tell me if I am right or not. Me continuing to babble without knowing if I am right or not does none of us any good (at this point, everyone, including the professor and myself are laughing)."

(Professor trying to regain his composure) "You are right, but not for the reasons you think you are right.

(Me) "Now there's a shock. I'm right, but don't even know why I am right. I'm too dumb to even know how smart I am."

(Professor continues) "This case eventually set a different precedent from what it intended to set. Do you know what precedent that was?"

(Me) "I barely understand the precedent I just was right about, how am I supposed to know the case set a precedent for a case we haven't even discussed yet?"

(Professor) "We are discussing the case today, actually. It's part of what we will discuss tomorrow."

(Me laughing along with everyone else) "I'm sorry, I can't tell you what new precedent was set in this case if we haven't even discussed the case where this current case became the new precedent. I'm really confused, sorry."

(Professor) "Have a seat."

(Me) "Thank God."

This conversation ended up lasting about 15 minutes, but these are the highlights and they speak to my confusion. I came to the conclusion I just wasn't smart enough for law school or the Socratic Method is only meant to weed out those who can't cut it. The latter is probably true. I guess I got weeded out. Eventually this professor gave me a very nice recommendation to the MBA program and we had several nice conversations after that. In a couple of the conversations he told me law isn't for everyone, but he and my other professors understand I'm smart...but it's just not translating. "You can't be good at everything," he told me. This came as a shock since I had only failed once in terms of academics over my entire educational career. I got a "B-" in Algebra II in 9th grade and that was with the help of a tutor (I was fortunate my high school offered statistics classes after that so I could avoid Calculus. I love statistics and didn't want to learn Calculus). I didn't know how it felt to fail in academics. I always said I wanted to be an attorney and now I was going to have to change course.

I was at that point in "Like Crazy" where I had finally gotten what I wanted, but just now realized it isn't what I wanted at all. That's what really resonated with me about the movie. Not the romantic part or the feeling of two lovers trying to live a life together, but the feeling of fighting so hard for something you want, but then find out it isn't what you want at all. I had gotten myself in a position where I was pursuing something I didn't care to pursue, but only for the reason I always said I wanted to pursue it. After all I had done to achieve my goal, I found out I didn't really want to attend law school anymore. It's really ridiculous sounding isn't it? I worked hard to achieve a goal it turns out I never even wanted to achieve. I'm kind of glad I couldn't catch on to the Socratic Method (though student loans had accumulated during my first year of law school, so I was not happy about that) because it forced me to make a change. I had never updated my feelings about being an attorney from the time I was 13 years old. I had made a decision as a middle-schooler and that decision was final.

The movie "Like Crazy" didn't change my life, but it did affect me in a way. It was a film where I could see myself in the struggle contained in it. I saw where two people wanted something because they claim to have wanted something at a point in the past. They never updated or discussed any changing wants or needs with each other. Any attempted variation on being together forever was seen as a mere bump in the road rather than a giant red flag warning them they were on the wrong course. In that movie, I don't recall any other character asking Anna or Jacob if they had really thought about whether they wanted to be together or not. I had a habit as a younger person of not evaluating my decisions and asking myself if those decisions are really what I wanted out of life, which is not a good habit to have.

So after my first year of law school, I decided I wasn't going to attend law school anymore and was going to pursue an MBA. This was a more logical move since I was more interested in opening up a business that happened to be a law office than I was interested in opening a law office that happened to be a business. My roommate at the time was still in law school, so I got the perks of going to law school parties but not having to deal with the work I hated so much. That was fantastic. My roommate and I threw combined MBA-law school parties at the house we rented (where we destroyed the men's basketball team at beer pong and taunted them for their lack of skill...that's always fun) and I finally got to learn about topics I understood and enjoyed discussing.

So that's why the movie resonated with me. It's the absurdity of these two people doing so much work to accomplish something they aren't entirely sure they believe in anymore, but never questioning whether they believe in that something or not. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate the phrase "It was meant to be" because I dislike the idea of anything but my free will and own decisions affecting how my life plays out. So when people say something "just isn't meant to be," I cringe because it seems like a lazy way of not taking responsibility for a decision that was made. It's not that I wasn't meant to be an attorney, I just never updated the expectations I had for my own life and how I wanted to live my life.

A lot of good things came out of my year at law school. I met people who became good friends, I got to spend a couple of summers alone (the school I went to was a ghost town during the summer and my roommate went home for the summer, while I was taking summer classes to graduate from the MBA program in a little over a year) with myself and my thoughts and I learned to rely on discovering what I really wanted out of life to make decisions for myself. This process got started at least. I'm not entirely sure this lesson effectively took hold in the form of actions until I was a little older, but that's beside the point.

I had people tell me it wasn't meant to be for me to be an attorney, which is what I heard a lot of. This made me cringe. It seems like a passive reason to explain it. I wasn't very good at it and I didn't have the passion to become an attorney. That's how I explain it.

Another good thing that came out of law school is that my roommate when I was pursuing my MBA had a college buddy who I was casual friends with and this college buddy eventually moved to Greensboro, North Carolina the same time I moved there. We became great friends and roommates. Then my roommate started dating a girl who had a good friend that she introduced me to at a bar (I know, a bar...I hate it too). This girl was double-fisting beer, which I immediately took as a good sign. She eventually became my wife. So basically if I had never made the bad decision to go to law school I never would have met my law school roommate who never would have introduced me to his college friend who ended up dating a girl who introduced me to my wife. Some people would start screaming "That's fate!," but I chose to go to law school remember, so I like to think it was all my doing. At least something good came from that bad decision.

Monday, May 6, 2013

10 Pieces of Pop Culture Others Seem to Enjoy More than Me

I haven't written here as much as I anticipated doing. According to Blogger I have two readers, so stay tuned and I will be posting more stuff. It just so happens I started this blog at the same time work got crazy for me.

Everybody has those pieces of pop culture they just didn't understand or seemingly enjoy for whatever reason. I got to thinking about these pieces of pop culture recently when I heard a Teenage Fanclub song playing on my iPhone. Everyone has that pop culture piece they could enjoy, but they just don't. I probably have more than 10, but if I sat around thinking of everyone piece of pop culture I don't enjoy, but probably should, I would never write anything. So here are the 10 pieces of pop culture I have never been able to enjoy and my reason for why I think I don't like this piece of pop culture.

1. Teenage Fanclub

I tend to really love jangle pop (or bands I consider to be jangle pop). R.E.M., Real Estate, Gin Blossoms, the Byrds, Guster, The Smiths, and various others. I even bought DGC Rarities Volume 1 when I was younger and enjoyed the Teenage Fanclub song on that album (Mad Dog 20/20). So logic would dictate I would enjoy Teenage Fanclub, but I don't. I have "Bandwagonesque," "Songs from Northern Britain," "Man-Made," and "Shadows." I've tried, but for some reason the jangle pop they play doesn't resonate with me and the lyrics don't generally attract me to their music. It plays like background music to me. It just doesn't mean anything and I don't enjoy it when I hear a lot of their music.

"I Don't Want Control of You" is one of the few Teenage Fanclub songs that tends to stick in my  head. You would think since I love bands influenced by Teenage Fanclub and those who have influenced Teenage Fanclub I would like them as well, but I don't. The band has three songwriters, so there are three different perspectives they write from, and I still don't like the music. It isn't offensive to me, because it's worse than that, their music (outside of a few songs) just feels inconsequential. I can't explain it. I've tried everything and just can't get into them.

2. Role playing video games (video games and board games)

I purchased a Final Fantasy game when I was 14 for the Super Nintendo. I played it for just a couple of days and then got really bored. I didn't care to buy potions and I didn't care to sail across a sea and have some wizard dude accost me trying to get me to go fight a dragon (I can't even remember what I was supposed to fight) or have some dragon pop up and want me to fight it, but I end up losing because I didn't visit the wizard for enough potion. Even the fights were sort of passive-feeling. I would stand there and throw things or use potions on the dragon or whatever enemy was lined up across the screen from me. It seemed pretty slow and dreary to me. I have tried some other role-playing video games since then and have come across the same issue. I even played "Grand Theft Auto" a lot and eventually got bored and just started killing innocent pedestrians. Perhaps that says a lot about me more than the game.

There were role-playing board games that some of my friends played. This mostly consisted of "Dungeons and Dragons." I got invited to play a few times, but it never interested me. I don't think I ever understood exactly what went on during these games and my viewing of "Freaks and Geeks" episodes were it showed them playing "Dungeons and Dragons" didn't help my comprehension much. I was never much into board games anyway, but role playing games just seemed kind of dumb to me. On a somewhat similar note...

3. Lord of the Rings

Some of these pop culture pieces I never got into and I'm sort of dismissive about it or don't understand why. Then there are others that I did partake in attempting to enjoy and am more aggressive about disliking. The "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and however many "Hobbit" movies Peter Jackson has committed himself to making are in the later category. I saw every "LotR" film, because I am open-minded and wanted to change my mind about them, but every single one of them annoyed me more than the last. They were overly-long, boring, tedious, boring, tedious, and I hated Frodo. I wanted him to be thrown into one of the pits of fire. I was cheering for Gollum to get the ring back and throw Frodo into a fire of some sort. My distaste for the character of  Frodo knows no bounds. I don't understand why he was the one who had to search out the ring. Couldn't they have found a person with quality character who wasn't completely helpless?

I like "Game of Thrones" and I have nothing against epic, long movies (though I do have a short attention span so long movies are always a bit of a test), so I would have assumed I would like these films. I watched all of the "Harry Potter" films and didn't dislike them. I watched and own nearly all of the "Star Wars" films. I am not against what is considered "geek" entertainment. The "LotR" trilogy had trees that fucking talked and carried people, there were midgets, hobbits, dwarfs, and then the ring was somehow given to the weakest, most clumsy character in the movie. The films just seemed ridiculously idiotic and overly-long. Actually, I think Frodo is my main issue with this film. He was always getting his ass kicked and then saved by someone else. I actually envied Sean Bean because he only had to film the first movie while I had to sit through all three of them because I was so willing to give the trilogy a fair shot.

Perhaps it is the trees that talk which I can't past. I'm not sure. I do know when I saw the previews for "The Hobbit" somehow I wanted to see that movie less than I wanted to see the "LotR" trilogy again. "The Hobbit" looked longer, more tedious and full of more songs (more on that later), which was an immediate turn-off for me. It's nothing against the trilogy, but the whole series just dragged on and on. I know I am probably in the minority on this, but I have zero interest in these movies and can't understand the draw. Sadly, Peter Jackson has committed to making "The Hobbit" into three movies. If I am ever kidnapped by a foreign country (and I don't know why I would be) they could threaten to show me the "Hobbit" trilogy and I would probably break fairly quickly.

4. Steven Spielberg's latest movies (as a director)

I thought about doing an entire post on "War Horse," but decided I wouldn't allow that movie to have any more effect on my life in a negative way that it already has. The latest Spielberg movies I am talking about here are "Munich," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," "War Horse," and "Lincoln." I haven't seen "The Adventures of Tintin" and probably have no interest in seeing it. Three of these movies, not including "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," were very highly thought of, but "Munich," "War Horse," and "Lincoln" all suffered from the same tedious and boring feeling. Spielberg is very well thought of, but I can't shake the feeling if his name wasn't on the film critics wouldn't be as kind in their reviews. Later in his career he has started directing films that are slow and not quite as interesting as they should be. I'm at the point where Spielberg could put out a 170 minute movie of a dog crapping in the backyard and critics would salivate over it. The worst of these movies is "War Horse," which is a movie I periodically debated turning off completely while watching it. I wish the horse would have trampled me in order to put me out of my misery.

Let me go movie-by-movie and explain. "Munich" was just a disappointment more than anything. It was 163 minutes long. It was a revenge film, but a revenge film with a lot of thought behind it. Like, A LOT of thought. 163 minutes of thought to be exact. The movie was exciting at times, but the ending left me flat and Spielberg can't simply direct a movie, he has to put some sort of statement into the movie also. Maybe that was his entire point of making the movie. Of all the Spielberg movies I am discussing this is probably the best one. Still, I was disappointed in it. It felt preachy and impressed with it's own gravity. Spielberg always makes it very clear when discussing a historical topic that he is making a very serious movie you should be paying attention to. Sometimes it comes off as preachy to me.

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." I'm a huge fan of Harrison Ford and a huge fan of the "Indiana Jones" series, so this entire movie was somewhat of a disappointment to me. The movie came out on my birthday too, which was awesome at the time, but then it was a let-down. It was Indiana Jones v. aliens. These movies are supposed to be fun. This wasn't very much fun and they only had 19 years to make it great. Perhaps they needed more time.

"War Horse." Oh, this movie. I love animals and this seemed like a movie I would enjoy. It was not. This movie is the epitome of Spielberg at his worst. It was tedious, visually exciting, dry, and bloated. It felt like two and a half hours of a horse bouncing around from owner to owner with very little happening in the interim. At the end of the movie, I simply wanted the boy to be reunited with his horse so that the film could end. I firmly believe if this movie had been directed by anyone other than Spielberg it would not have a 77% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. It felt somewhat manipulative of the audience's emotions and it definitely labored along. It was so dry I really almost turned it off and I am a person who has never turned off a movie.

On to "Lincoln." This was a pretty good movie. I just didn't enjoy it. I knew I was watching a quality film, but I wasn't enjoying watching the film. Much like Spielberg's work it was well-made and as close to accurate as possible to the real events. It seemed like two and a half hours (sense a trend in the Spielberg movies I don't like?) of Daniel Day-Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln. He did a fine job, but I don't know if I felt like the movie was anything more than an elaborate dress-up and historical lesson. It told a good story that I knew prior to the movie, but again I thought the script and the direction was pretty dry. I found myself wondering how far into the movie we were quite frequently. I felt like Mary Todd Lincoln's illnesses and state of mind were thrown into the movie without any sort of commitment to them simply so the movie wouldn't be criticized for not including this part of Lincoln's life.

Overall, I feel like Spielberg's latest movies have been uninteresting, tedious, overly-long and more impressed with themselves than I am with them. I'm fine with long movies, but it just has to be an interesting long movie.

5. Bluegrass

I grew up in North Carolina, went to college in the mountains and my father loved bluegrass. I should love bluegrass. It is just a bunch of banjo picking and similar sounding songs to me though. I can listen to bluegrass, but I get no feeling from hearing it and once I'm done with hearing bluegrass I forget it entirely. I tend to treat bluegrass music like Don Draper treats his mistresses I guess.

6. The Andy Griffith Show

I was part of a conversation on Twitter recently about this topic. I just never have watched "The Andy Griffith Show" and enjoyed it. I wasn't amused by Don Knotts and always got the feeling he shouldn't be such a clumsy dipshit if he was supposed to be a policeman. It just never spoke to me. It was like "Full House" without the cheesiness that I adored so much and it was "Matlock" without Andy Griffith being as sneaky. Maybe I don't like the show because many of the characters have names that I am afraid are too closely connected to the South. Names like:

Aunt Bee
Ernest T. Bass

It very well could be my Southern self-hatred that causes me to not enjoy the show. Either way, I can whistle the theme song, but I won't watch the show.

7. The Beatles

This one has a caveat. I do like the Beatles. I just don't like them as much as everyone else likes them. They were sort of a boy band and very much marketed that way. Sure, they played their own instruments and went on to break out of the boy band mold and made serious, good music together, but they all had the same haircut and outfit in the beginning and girls overwhelmingly adored them. I'm more of a Rolling Stones-type guy. Yeah, they dressed alike a little bit, but they weren't as adored by women as the Beatles were. I tend to take the Rolling Stones early work a little more seriously than I take the Beatles early work. I've been raked over the coals quite often for my opinion about the Beatles, trust me. I like them, but I don't love them. If I hear one of their songs on the radio I very well may change the station.

It's hard to talk to Beatles fans about just liking the group. They don't understand. I try to explain the Beatles made a ton of music in a very short span of time, so I believe their reputation is greatly enhanced by the fact they weren't around for a while. I also believe their reputation is enhanced by their popularity and how television helped to make them popular. Diehard Beatles fans completely fail to understand this reasoning. To me, they are sort of a pop culture marker. The Beatles arrival began "The British Invasion" and the use of television as a medium to mass market music to idiotic women. The women aren't idiots, they just scream and act like idiots.

So I don't dislike the Beatles, but recognize them as a really great band whose music I don't enjoy as much as everyone else does. They are a marker for when music and television collided. I much prefer later in their career when they became a band where each member of the band wrote their own music and they hated each other. Still, if I am being honest "Hey Jude" feels long at the end and some of the Beatles later albums like "Revolver," "Sgt. Pepper's...," "Magical Mystery Tour," and "Let it Be" simply couldn't be performed live due to the amount of overdubs and studio magic that had to go into the songs. I do tend to factor a band's live performances into my opinion of that band and the Beatles never really toured after "Revolver." They became a studio band, which is fine, but it takes away some of my interest in them.

8. Musicals

I was in Chorus from 8th grade to 12th grade. In that time, I saw my share of musicals. I saw them on film, in concert and on Broadway. All had a lot of singing and a plot that only seemed to be there to prevent the musical from simply being a bunch of songs back-to-back. I tend to believe women like musicals more than men anyway. I tried to change my mind by watching "Oklahoma," but that only reinforced my opinion of musicals and women liking musicals more than men. I thought I would be seeing a rougher, more exciting version of a musical, but it wasn't at all. It was the same old version of a movie I saw in "The Sound of Music," "The Music Man," "Seven Brides for Seven Guys" (I know that's not the name, but to give the real title would acknowledge its existence), "Les Miserables," (which I can watch and 35% enjoy), "Phantom of the Opera," and quite a few others I have blocked out. I can't stand the show "Glee" either, so there is a trend here. Speak your emotions, don't bore me with singing about them.

9. The Notorious B.I.G.

I'm all West Coast rap it seems. I have all of Biggie's albums, but I can't say I particularly enjoy the albums as much as everyone else does. Maybe it is his mumbling rap style, affiliation with P. Diddy/Diddy/Puff Daddy, or possibly it is just I don't like his music. Either way, I haven't enjoyed his music as much as others have. While Tupac's style always seemed more attacking and antagonistic, which apparently I enjoy, Biggie's music seems laid-back and lazy to me. Sort of like was just rapping because he didn't have anything else to do. Plus, any of his rhymes about women and all the sex he had (which are probably true) seem ridiculous since he has more in common with Jabba the Hutt than Lothario. He was disgustingly fat, so I always figured his idea of seduction was flashing his wallet at some skanks. I'm not entirely sure why I don't enjoy his music, but it certainly doesn't. His mumbling and overly-smooth style just comes off as lackadaisical to me. 

10. Hooters

I don't hate Hooters and certainly don't take a moral stance against the restaurant. There's really nothing in my opinion to have a moral stand against. For me, the draw seems to be getting served by a woman in tight clothing, and that's why some people will eat there. That's fine, but there are a lot of other places you can go and see women in tight clothing who may not also be wearing stockings under their outfit (which frankly makes them look somewhat ridiculous in my opinion) or trying to flirt with you for good tips. The food is pretty good, I will give them that, but as a restaurant and an atmosphere it's good for the occasional visit, but certainly not a place I would put down that I have to visit on a frequent basis. Maybe I get Dick Vitale's voice in my head now when I think about Hooters since he does commercials for them. Maybe it is that I knew a couple girls in high school who ended up being Hooters girls and that is affecting my opinion of the place. Will I eat there? Yes, if I have to. Will I eat there simply to ogle women in their outfits? Probably not. It seems sort of ridiculous to me. They are wearing tights and usually have their boobs pushed up to their collar bone. That's not my thing. The best part about the restaurant is that if you ask the waitress to hula hoop then she has to do it. I never knew this.

So these are the 10 pieces of pop culture that I don't enjoy as much as everyone else seems to. I think we all have examples of pop culture we just don't get.