Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Look out Miami!

Maybe 2012 will be the end of the world. If the New Orleans Saints making it to the Super Bowl isn't a sign that it's the End Times, then I may lose faith in the apocalypse altogether.

It's impossible to describe how the people of this area have reacted to this one sporting event. On Monday, the Large Southern University where I work looked like it does on Ash Wednesday morning,* except about half the people who made it in were wearing black and gold. It has dominated the local papers every day. Fleur de lis earrings and hats and shirts and ties and pretty much anything else you can imagine are showing up everywhere. My hair stylist, who pretty much hates football, couldn't shut up about it. Actually, no one can shut up about it.

Picture from here

I am not immune. Even though I have become more circumspect in recent years where Big Sport is concerned, I have been a Saints fan since Archie Manning was the team's quarterback, long before I lived in this area. I liked them initially, not in spite of their keystone cop incompetence, but almost because of it. When I'm watching a team so bad that they inspire their fans to wear grocery bags over their heads, I feel I am among my people. Saints fans have always understood that winning is important, but passing a good time with good people is what really counts. The Saints have flirted with greatness before, but we always had faith that it wouldn't stick.

Somehow it all got more serious after the hurricane. A lot has been written about what the Saints have meant to New Orleans since Katrina. Some of it is probably even true. The players and coaches have carried a heavy load these last four years. What makes me respect them more is that they took it upon themselves. For the most part, the players welcomed the association, and gave their money, their time and their talent to creating something good to people who desperately needed something good.

Maybe the most miraculous thing the Saints have managed to do is redeem the Superdome.  The Dome is as much a symbol of the city to area residents as the French Quarter, or drive-through daiquiri shops. After Katrina it became a symbol of despair, disillusionment and all that was lost. Many people thought it should be demolished. For most of the rest of us it was going to be an enormous, painful reminder of a time we would rather forget, impossible to miss on a drive into downtown New Orleans. This past Sunday it was the place we most wanted to be, and the pain was blasted away in the roar of the 72,000 faithful, screaming and crying with joy for a day they never thought would come.

There are a lot of reasons why the Saints probably shouldn't win the Super Bowl. Many of them are the same reasons they were not going to defeat Minnesota on Sunday. And everyone's luck runs out sooner or later. But I wouldn't bet against them. And win or lose, with the Saints in the Super Bowl a little over a week before Mardi Gras, the Gulf Coast will be rocking it like a hurricane. It should be a weekend to remember.

Who Dat!

*Ash Wednesday is the day after Mardi Gras. The university doesn't even try to have classes until after noon that day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gotta be the Dick

Some of you know I've been reading Moby Dick.

Still reading that, you ask?

Why, yes, I respond.

Why so long?* 

Because the shit is boring, thanks for asking.

Seriously, unless you're looking for a do-it-yourself whaling manual, I can't think of a single reason why anyone would want to read this thing. Except for one spectacularly good chapter that doesn't even really fit in the story, it's about like reading a precocious thirteen year old's diary of the year they spent studying for the National Spelling Bee. Or listening to a really old person who doesn't know how to tell stories tell a story. You know the ones I mean. Each digression becomes more detailed and tedious than the one before, until everyone forgets why they are even in the same room. I can usually manage about ten pages before blessed sleep rescues me from this hundred and fifty year old heart-warming tale of a xenophobic know-it-all who wants to make sure I know every frakking thing he had for breakfast one morning in eighteen-fifty-kill-me.

I guess I understand the appeal when the book was written, back in the days when most people had only read two books or less, all they knew was hunting and farming, and South America might as well have been Jupiter. A whale was like a dinosaur to them, so I guess Moby Dick is sort of like Jurassic Park of the nineteenth century. You know what? Jurassic Park sucked, too.

So anyway, the reason I bring this up is that I think it's affecting my writing. In the same way that we are what we eat,** I think we write what we read. And since Melville is an undisciplined rambler with a sharp eye for irrelevant detail, this is not a good thing for me. I think this post serves as an excellent example of this effect.

I'm what I like to euphemistically refer to as a non-linear thinker in the best of times, and my story-telling is in constant danger of being derailed by runaway digressions creating a chain reaction and destroying my train of thought. Being exposed to this kind of meandering crap for this amount of time cannot be good for me.

There is hope on the horizon. I've got the new Terry Pratchett waiting, and maybe some Irving after that. Now if I can just kill this whale (or whatever happens) and get through this piece of crap before I die of boredom.

* I'm having a really hard time with this one, trying to choose between the tried and true "That's what she said," and the slightly more esoteric, "That's a bit of a personal question, don't you think?" Opinions?

** That way being simultaneously "completely" and "not at all."

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Road Always Taken

Every now and then, I find myself needing to impress upon a skeptical female exactly how small the difference is between a teenage boy and a spawning salmon swimming up waterfalls and into the mouths of bears in the slim hope that there just might possibly be some sex at the end.*  In these situations, I often tell this story.

The summer after my second -- and last, for a while -- year of college, I lived with two other guys in what was known that year as The Piranha House. The name came from a Monty Python sketch, and my two roommates came from other planets. I have oscillated in my life between being the most normal of my friends and being the most strange. This was definitely a case of the former. But I digress. One thing that was relevant was that Doug and Dinsdale both had steady girlfriends, and I did not.

The house was coveted by college students throughout the small town of Conway, where I was in school, and we had only gotten it because my best friend was the previous tenant. The Piranha House was situated on a tiny block by itself, and the closest neighbors were a funeral home and an old deaf lady. It had a huge front porch and a big back yard.** The three of us split $180 rent, so you know it was nice. In other words, it was a perfect party house. And we threw one perfect party after another. On any given Sunday morning you could find a person-sized pile of cans and bottles by the curb, and usually a person or two lying somewhere in the yard.

They weren't all big parties. Many were impromptu sessions where a few people would come over, consumables would be consumed, and things would just go along that way for far too long. Perhaps there was light commerce, I forget. Something seems to have affected my memory of that period. On more than one occasion, small gatherings turned into big parties, as more people showed up and no one left.

The only party that didn't really turn out that well was the one we tried to plan. And by plan, I mean we got the money and transportation together to drive all the way to Little Rock for a keg, and told people that we were having a party. I forget the details, but we had neglected to account for some real-world event happening that same night, and we only got about ten people total. Still, we were nothing if not intrepid, so we kept at it until we floated the keg. This was about midnight, and coincident to me deciding that I was "lonely."

The only girl I knew at the time who I was pretty sure would welcome me under these circumstances was going to school in Fayetteville, almost 200 miles away by mostly narrow, twisty mountain roads. (Within a few years I would know two people killed in separate incidents on this same route, in broad daylight and bright sunshine.) Did this deter me? Of course not, and I was the cautious one in the group.

My roommates, being steadfast friends concerned for my safety, made sure I was supplied for the trip, and even suggested we take tequila shots "for luck" to ensure a safe voyage. I had recently acquired a beat-up 1967 Volvo sedan that would strand me all across these United States of ours in years to come, so obviously nothing could go wrong there. Thus fortified, I set out.

Within about thirty minutes I was enveloped in the densest fog I can remember. It was also getting pretty hard to see outside the car. I drove into a wall of fog on an otherwise clear road, and never drove out of it. Visibility was about two car lengths, and steadily got worse. Eventually, I was straining to see the road directly in front of the car. I drove most of the way at 25 mph or less. For much of the last hour, I was driving about 10 mph.

I pulled into Fayetteville just before sunrise, exhausted and very much sobered up. But not exhausted enough to forget what I came for. I spent a pleasant morning and afternoon with my friend, and then made an uneventful trip back to Conway that evening. I don't recall a lot of time for sleep in there, but that didn't seem to bother me in those days.

Parts of this trip are fuzzy in my memory, but one thing I remember very clearly is that I never even considered turning back. I remember thinking that I should turn back, but it was in much the same way that I now think I should spend more time reading journals or get a colonoscopy. I can't even explain it, now that I have more or less wrestled control of my consciousness away from my junk, but in those days it wasn't even a fair fight. Actually, it was no fight at all. The whole team was on board, with laser focus on a single goal. Night and day, day in and day out, month after month and year after year.

This is not exactly behavior I am proud to admit, but I wasn't really any more of a slimy douchebag than other guys my age. (I mean, I was probably in the top third, but that's only because I could get away with it.) There were girls for whom I developed deep feelings, and I felt love's sharp sting more than once. But that was all irrelevant when it came to meeting basic needs. To a nineteen year old boy, it's like saying you can't eat on vacation because there is food at home. It just doesn't make any sense. The only reason most guys that age even have girlfriends is for regular sex.

It also never occurred to me that Vickie -- I'm pretty sure that was her name -- was a real person with feelings and motivations and some opinion about why this boy would drive all night to see her. And I mean never. occurred. to me. I will never know what she thought about the whole thing, but I would be willing to bet it was significantly different from what I thought. There were probably butterflies and unicorns involved.

Luckily, blood flow was rerouted and some semblance of sanity returned to me within a few years, though I was pushing forty before I really felt like the primary head had gained the upper hand for good. I suspect this is why men are so protective of their daughters. Because they know, and they know they will never be believed when it matters. As for any teenage girls out there who are sure their boyfriend is different, don't say I didn't warn you.

*The reasons I find myself needing to communicate this vary, though it's most often to young women who are involved with some boy that they are positive would never do X, Y or Z just to get in their pants. In these situations, of course, they never, ever believe me.

** That's what she said.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Digits

It's 2010. Finally. Frankly, it's about time we got some different digits on the calendar. You kids today probably think that having double digits in the year is your birthright or something, what with the double nines and then twenty-oh's coming right in a row and all. Back in my day we had to wait eleven years to get double digits, and it only lasted a year.

That's probably what has gone wrong the last two decades, what with the unsafe food, global warming, economic collapse and decline of the NHL. It's all this promiscuous double-digiting, I'm sure of it. So maybe now we can get back to some good, solid American calendar years without all of this digit duplication. Perhaps there is hope yet.

Oh crap. Next year is 2011. Hopefully, we can hold out until 2012. And it won't be the end of the world.