Monday, February 19, 2018

Entry 411: My Top 100 Movies

Real-life things happened this week -- and not good real-life things.  I have thoughts on them, of course I do, and maybe I will share them another time.  But for now, I have two kids in my charge -- one of them is watching a movie, the other napping, so I have to hustle through this post.  When time is of the essence, I find it better to go with lighter fare.  So, I have ranked my top 100 movies of all time.  This was prompted by a facetious tweet I sent out saying Phantom Thread, which I just watch this weekend, was around my 77th favorite movie ever.  It came in 66th, on my actual list, so not too far off.

Before I give the list I'll quickly state the criteria: The rankings are based on a 50-50 split of (a) how much I remember liking the movie when I saw it, and (b) how much I like it now thinking back on it.  All movies on this list have to be reasonably strong in both categories.  For example, I loved The Chipmunk Adventure when I first saw it -- I would request it frequently when my parents would rent us videos -- so it ranks very highly in (a), but not at all in (b), so it doesn't make the list.  On the flip-side, a movie like Fight Club, I didn't love immediately after seeing it, but it stuck with me, and I found myself thinking back on it with intrigue, and so it ranks relatively highly.

Okay, the list.
  1. Pulp Fiction: Lists like this are impossible.  You could take any movie and swap it with any other movie within 20 spots of it, and it would still look "right" to me.  But I go with Pulp Fiction because this is the movie that most blew my fmind when I saw it.  I was 16 or 17; I had never even heard of Quentin Tarantino; I was at theater and had no idea what to expect.  When I got what I got it...
  2. Raiders of the Lost Ark: Probably the movie that brought me the most joy the first time I ever saw it, when I was, I don't know, seven maybe.  Still holds up as a great action movie, but the plot is thin, and it's never explained how Indy and Marion got back from the island at the end.  Speaking of Marion, Karen Allen is the key to this movie.  She's phenomenal.
  3. The Big Lebowski: My favorite Coen brothers movie of all time; my favorite comedy of all time (unless you count Pulp Fiction as a dark comedy, which is fair).
  4. City of God: My first "non-chalk" pick, and apparently my favorite foreign film ever.  Brutally excellent.
  5. The Lives of Others: Another foreign film.  This is one I would recommend to others before City of God because it has broader appeal, I suspect.
  6. Rocky: My favorite movie during high school wrestling season.  A little slow now, but that's not a bad thing.  The make-out scene with Adrian is uncomfortable to watch in retrospect because he blocks the door and doesn't let her leave.  But Rocky is an imperfect protagonist, and maybe that was an accurate reflection of how things happened at the time.
  7. The Empire Strikes Back: This will always be the best Star Wars movie to me.  I can say this with certitude because I will never see another one as a little kid again.
  8. Trainspotting: Would be even higher if it didn't pale in comparison to the book.  But if not for my love of this movie, I never would have even read the book.
  9. American Movie: Am I laughing at Mark or with him?  Am I on his side or hoping he fails for my entertainment?  I've never really answered these questions, but I love this documentary nonetheless.
  10. Moonlight: The first recent movie on the list.  Great characters, beautifully shot, nothing really happens -- exactly my type of movie.
  11. Stand By Me: If you see this movie for the first time as an 11-year-old boy, you will like it.
  12. Bloodsport: I've seen pretty much every dumb action movie made between the years of 1988 and 1995, and this is the only one that I truly love.  There's no message or meaning or really even much of a plot, just Jean-Claude Van Damme at his Jean-Claude Van Dammnest.
  13. Word Wars: This movie got me into competitive Scrabble.  G.I. Joel, Marlon, Joe, and Matt are the greatest foursome in documentary history.
  14. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: My favorite movie for a large portion of my childhood.  Weird and magical.  Gene Wilder is fantastic -- puts Johnny Depp to shame.
  15. Back to the Future: Another childhood favorite.  I so wanted to be Marty McFly.
  16. The Reader: Totally underrated because it came out in 2008, the same year as Slumdog Millionaire (which was way overrated, in my opinion).  Kate Winslet is so good.
  17. Goodfellas: Not huge on gangster movies -- except this one.  So many great scenes, but the one in which the camera is panning through restaurant to "Then He Kissed Me" sticks out the most.
  18. The Shawshank Redemption: This was a "hidden gem" between my friends and I in high school -- or so we thought.  It turns out everybody thought the same way, and so it has been played on a continuous loop on basic cable for the past 20 years.  It's like when a song you love gets played to death on the radio.
  19. Storytelling: My favorite Todd Solondz movie.  Fucked up, of course, but spectacular.  It's also very short (under 90 minutes), which I recently found out (if Wikipedia is to be believed) is because they cut an entire third act of the film starring James van der Beek. 
  20. The Man Who Wasn't There:  Coen Bros no. 2, and my favorite Billy Bob Thornton performance ever.
  21. Ghostbusters: Another movie I loved as a kid.  Still decent as adult -- just a succession of Bill Murray one-liners -- but probably wouldn't even make my list if not for the way it enthralled me as a ten-year-old.
  22. The Wrestler: I'm fascinated by behind-the-scenes professional wrestling, so this movie hit the spot for me -- also helps to have Mickey Rourke and Marissa Tomei give amazing performances.
  23. Silence of the Lambs: Scared me more than any movie I've ever seen, and I was, like, 14-years-old when I saw it.  I wasn't a little kid.
  24. Hoop Dreams: With the advent of ESPN's 30 for 30 and other documentary sports series like NFL Network's A Football Life, this one probably wouldn't be anything special today.  But 25 years ago it was the bomb.
  25. Mulholland Drive: I like David Lynch, but I'm not a huge connoisseur of his work.  Love this movie, though -- incomprehensible but still watchable (unlike, say, Inland Empire).  And Naomi Watts -- brilliant and sexy as hell.
  26. Star Wars -- A New Hope: Always liked Empire better, but still a great movie.
  27. Taxi Driver: De Niro is great, of course, but teenage Jodie Foster steals the show.
  28. A Serious Man: Coen Bros no 3.  Their most underrated work.
  29. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse: The Apocalypse Now documentary that is significantly better than the movie itself.  An amazing look at the inscrutably thin line between massive success and catastrophic failure.  
  30. Pee-wee's Big Adventure: Rewatched the "Tequila" scene recently -- still entertaining.
  31. Return of the Jedi: The best beginning to any Star Wars movie, in my opinion, at Jabba's compound.  The Ewoks and the ending (a "Teddy bear picnic" as described by Harrison Ford) really take it down a few notches, though.
  32. Y Tu Mamá También: Loved it when I first saw it.  Would love to watch it again.
  33. Fight Club: See above.
  34. Forrest Gump: This movie got really played out, really fast, but I'm not gonna act too cool for school.  I loved it when it came out.
  35. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: This was the first "adult" book I ever read, so it holds a special place in my heart.  The movie is not as good (of course) but I remember it holding up to the book reasonably well.
  36. 12 Angry Men: Saw it relatively recently.  Loved it.  Lee J. Cobb is the man.
  37. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Not into slasher movies, but this one transcended the genre for me.  The best horror movie I've ever seen.
  38. Inglorious Bastards: It took Tarantino nearly 20 years to produce another masterpiece (in my view) after Pulp Fiction.
  39. Naked Gun: The funniest movie I had ever seen from, like, age 12 through 16.  Saw it relatively recently -- still pretty funny if you can get over it starring a real-life murderer.
  40. Boogie Nights: Another one that got "played out" for me -- largely through reading Bill Simmons who's obsessed with it -- but I was super into it when it first came out.  And I'm the first (and only, to date) person to put DIRK DIGGLER in a New York Times crossword.
  41. Reservoir Dogs: Tarantino's first movie and third best, in my opinion.
  42. Happiness: Probably Solondz's most famous movie.  I came a little late to it.  I saw Storytelling first and like it better.  But this one is still fucked up and good.
  43. Babel: As you can probably tell, I have a thing for relentlessly dark movies.  My favorite Brad Pitt movie.
  44. Menace II Society: Another dark one.  Of the early '90s teen hood dramas I thought this one was a little bit better than...
  45. Boyz n the Hood: Although hearing Ice Cube talk about this movie -- he thought it was going to flop so badly, he was worried it would kill his nascent acting career -- bumps it up a few notches.
  46. Dead Man Walking: Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon -- terrible politics; great actors.  They were absolutely phenomenal in this.
  47. Princess Bride: Not as in love with movie as many others of my generation, but still thought it was excellent.
  48. The Slingshot: Probably the most obscure movie on my list.  I saw this in high school with my friend JW at an art theater in Olympia, WA, and we both thought it was awesome.
  49. The Natural: My favorite baseball movie -- a sentimental choice.
  50. The Muppet Movie: Speaking of sentimental, whenever I hear "Rainbow Connection" I get legitimately emotional.
  51. Boyhood: I like that Linklater tried something new by filming this movie over 12 years, but it was totally unnecessary.  It would have been just as good if he used makeup to age Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette and used several different actors for the kids.  In fact, it probably would have been better, as I didn't love Ellar Coltrane's acting as a teenager.  Still an excellent movie though.  Hit home for me. 
  52. Terminator: I think the sequel was a better movie, but I saw this one first at age 12 or so, and it totally messed with my mind, in a good way.
  53. Terminator 2: Judgement Day: I also thought it was a cop-out to make Arnold the hero in this one.  But Robert Patrick was fantastic as the evil terminator so it all worked out.
  54. Bull Durham: Best baseball movie I've ever seen through adult eyes, even if Tim Robbins is one of the least believable athletes in filmdom.
  55. The Three Amigos: Still funny and stupid today.
  56. The Squid and the Whale: Great dark comedy.  What I want Wes Anderson movies to be, but he only produced this one.  He didn't write or direct it.
  57. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters:  I mentioned it in my last post -- great, fun watch.
  58. Swingers: Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau are going to take over the world!  Or they will never do anything as good as this movie again.  (Did any actor go from fresh-faced to haggard faster than Vince Vaughn?)  The fact that his movie featured NHLPA '93 for Genesis moved it up like 15 spots for me.
  59. Dig!: Great documentary about the Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre.
  60. America Beauty: Loved it when I saw it.  Has since lost a lot of its charm.  Kevin Spacey being a creepazoid doesn't help.
  61. Dumb and Dumber: My favorite Jim Carrey movie -- still makes me laugh.
  62. Saving Private Ryan: Not that into war movies, but really liked this one.  The sniper was my favorite character. 
  63. Fargo: Coen Bros no. 4.  Last one on the list, I think.
  64. Apocalypse Now: I didn't like Marlon Brando's character -- other than that, morbidly terrific.
  65. The Shape of Water: Saw it recently; really liked it.  I recently found out the same director did a movie called Devil's Backbone, which I also liked (as well as Pan's Labyrinth, which I also liked, but I knew he did that already).
  66. Phantom Thread: As somebody on Twitter said, "So beautiful, so boring."  I typically really enjoy movies like that, this one was no exception.
  67. Sling Blade: The only movie on the list I haven't seen all the way through.  I came in around minute 20 or so, only half watching, and my eyes were glued to the TV by the end.
  68. Adaptation: The premise is kinda hokey, but it worked for me.  My favorite Nic Cage movie.
  69. Total Recall: The best non-Terminator Schwarzenegger movie, by far, in my opinion.
  70. In the Name of the Father: Barely remember anything about it.  But I know I really liked it.
  71. Whiplash: Another one I saw recently -- very good.
  72. Vacation: The best of the National Lampoon's movies.  I liked it, in large part, because Chevy Chase reminds me of my friend's dad.  Also young Anthony Michael Hall and Jane Krakowski.
  73. Rollerball: Reminds me of that Family Guy spoof.  Totally dated and corny, by today standards, but I loved it at age 15 or whatever when I first saw it.
  74. First Blood: Legitimately good action movie.  All the sequels make us remember it as hokier than it actually was. 
  75. Cinema Paradiso: Another one I don't remember much from, but know I really liked.
  76. Man on Wire: I'm sucker for documentaries, especially if they are good.
  77. Roger and Me: See above.  The only Michael Moore movie that didn't feel farcical to me.
  78. Spellbound: See above.  There's a kid in this movie I totally identify with.  He was way smarter and way nerdier than I was, but watching it, I knew exactly what he was thinking.  I even remember the word that knocked him out: BANNS.
  79. The Royal Tenebaums: Mixed feelings about Wes Anderson, as alluded to above, but this one is my favorite of his movies.
  80. Eyes Wide Shut: Never have I been so wanting to see what was going to happen next in a movie.  The answer, ultimately, was a pretty boring orgy followed by nothing.  But the journey was worth it, just for the sake of the journey.
  81. Die Hard: The fact that it became trendy among a certain factor of men who list it as their favorite "Christmas Movie" makes me like it less.  But, c'mon, this is a damn near perfect action movie.
  82. Office Space: Solid cult-classic comedy.
  83. Major League: One of those "you have to see it as a 13-year-old male baseball nerd to really appreciate it" movies.
  84. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective: It has some really awful, unfunny parts in retrospect, but, again, context -- nothing made me laugh harder as a high school student.
  85. Plaster Caster: Weird, interesting story that not many people know about.
  86. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: Although I thought Adaptation was a better movie this is my favorite Nic Cage performance.  It's just so bizarrely terrific.
  87. Ferrs Bueller's Day Off: Sentimental choice.  After Marty McFly, I wanted to be Ferris Bueller.
  88. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure: Similar to above.  Thought it was awesome as a kid.
  89. Spaceballs: Three in a row with the dumb comedy I loved as a kid.
  90. The Karate Kid: Four in a row?  Not sure if this qualifies as a dumb comedy or not.
  91. This is Spinal Tap: Saw it relatively recently, and it's funnier to remember the scenes than it is to actually watch the scenes, for some reason.
  92. Towelhead: Kinda like a wannabe Todd Soldonz movie, but still good.  Just now learned that this was the same guy who createdd Six Feet Under and wrote American Beauty -- huh.
  93. Gravity: Somehow a cool movie even though the plot is absurdly thin and the character development is virtually nonexistent.  Credit Sandra Bullock for that.
  94. Django Unchained: The greatest "Didn't Know How to End It" movie of all time.  The first two-thirds are amazing.
  95. The Book of Eli: One of those movies you watch on a plane on a whim and are very pleasantly surprised with how good it is.
  96. Beyond the Mat: Again, I was fascinated with professional wrestling, especially of the late '80s and early '90s.
  97. The Sixth Sense: Didn't see the twist coming.  (I never do.)  Thought it was cool.
  98. The Namesake: Hit's home for my wife, so by proximity, it hits home for me too.
  99. There Will Be Blood:  Didn't like the script that much, but Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano are brilliant in it.
  100. Chasing Amy: I'm not a huge Kevin Smith fan, but I like him enough so that my favorite of his movies is that last movie on my top 100 list.
And really I probably have 100 more that would have been on this list had I wrote it on a Wednesday instead of a Monday.  That's how capricious these types of things are.

Until next time...

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Entry 410: The Sad, the Rad, and the Bad

Some sad news this week.  A guy I went to school with -- elementary school through high school -- unexpectedly died in his sleep.  It's really affected me in a way no death has before.  It's not because I was close to him -- on the contrary, I barely knew him.  He was a year older than me, and I can remember having exactly one conversation with him one time when I was seven -- he asked me if I wanted to play football with him and his friends at recess, as I stood their silently, like a fanboy, watching them play.  We played indoor soccer on the same team for a year or two in grade school.  But he was the best player on the team, and I was somewhere near the bottom, so the rules of boyhood social hierarchy dictated we didn't intact often, if at all.

But those days are long gone, and now it seems as if he was just a middle-aged dude raising young boys, like me.  And that's why it hit me so hard.  I saw photos of him online with his three boys, all under ten, and I couldn't help but imagine if that was me.  The thought of my kids being fatherless is just... I don't have words to describe it.  But for a lot of you, I don't need words to described it, because you have children and know exactly what I mean.  I also clicked on his wife's Facebook page (we went to school together too), and it looked as if she hadn't posted anything since his death.  So, it was full of normal photos of her being normal and happy (one of them was captioned "Life is good"), and again it just made my heart sink imagining that being S.  One of her friends posted a Go Fund Me type link for funeral expenses and to help keep her afloat during what must be an impossibly difficult time, so I gave her $50 -- anonymously.  It felt weird giving money to somebody I barely knew, and I didn't think the "Hey... Remember me?  I know we didn't hang out in high school but..." message would be appropriate.  But I wanted to give something, perhaps selfishly, perhaps trying to assuage these visions of dread I've been experiencing.  I don't know.

I am also very curious about how exactly he died.  The only thing I heard is that it was "in his sleep" but that's not a cause of death.  Forty-year-olds don't just die in their sleep.  Something else has to be going on, and the fact that it hasn't come out yet -- that it's been omitted in all the announcements I've seen -- makes me wonder... even if it is none of my damn business.


In other news, happier news, this interview with Quincy Jones exists.  If you want to know what a whip-smart, ridiculously brash, 84-year-old music icon has to say about nearly every major celebrity of the past half-century, in the most giving-no-fucks way possible, then this is for you.  Here's what he says about the Beatles.  It might be the twentieth most provocative thing in the interview.
... they were the worst musicians in the world. They were no-playing motherfuckers. Paul was the worst bass player I ever heard. And Ringo? Don’t even talk about it. I remember once we were in the studio with George Martin, and Ringo had taken three hours for a four-bar thing he was trying to fix on a song. He couldn’t get it. We said, “Mate, why don’t you get some lager and lime, some shepherd’s pie, and take an hour-and-a-half and relax a little bit.” So he did, and we called Ronnie Verrell, a jazz drummer. Ronnie came in for 15 minutes and tore it up. Ringo comes back and says, “George, can you play it back for me one more time?” So George did, and Ringo says, “That didn’t sound so bad.” And I said, “Yeah, motherfucker because it ain’t you.” Great guy, though.

 In other, other news, my most recent deep-dive is this story about how the "bad guy" from the documentary King of Kong, Billy Mitchell, is being stripped of some of his high Donkey Kong scores.  I've gone back and forth on this one.  I really enjoyed the documentary, so I bought into the idea of Mitchell being a villain.  But there's always more to it than that, and documentaries are usually more interested in telling a compelling story than they are an accurate story, and antagonists make things more compelling.  Plus, even if Mitchell is a legit a-hole, it doesn't make him a cheater.

But then again, the case against him is pretty strong.  The tl;dr version is that all the available footage of his high scores look as if they were generated by a Donkey Kong emulator, not an original arcade game.  The reason this matters is because emulators can be more easily manipulated and thus require a higher standard of proof.  So, the claim isn't that Mitchell cheated necessarily; it's that he misrepresented the type of machine he used, so his scores are no longer considered "official."  Now, Mitchell claims he didn't use an emulator, and that the raw footage of his games will prove that.  The only thing publicly available at the moment are uploads to YouTube, which, could, in theory, be fakes.  (In fact, if you read the first linked article, it suggests that it's possible somebody did fake it.)   Supposedly, the original footage, which was being held by a gaming association called Twin Galaxies, will be made available soon, and it, according to Mitchell, will exonerate him.

I'm dubious.  For one thing, making a fake tape of his game using an emulator and uploading it to YouTube to discredit him sounds really hard.  How on Earth would you even do it?  It would have to be a near pixel-for-pixel match with the original to fool anybody.  For another thing, Mitchell is already hedging, saying that maybe his original tapes do look like he used an emulator, but that could be explained by other technical reasons, which he conveniently doesn't understand.  (And equally conveniently, this is something that will be extremely difficult to establish isn't true.)  If I had to put money on it, I would say he cheated, or at least lied, in someway -- but who knows?  If somebody actually made a fake tape to discredit him that's even more interesting.  I'm eager to see if anything else comes out of this story.

And it also goes to show that people will cheat at anything.  It people are competing, people are cheating -- sports, chess, bridge, Scrabble, and apparently video games.

Until next time...

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Entry 409: Story Time

S left last weekend to Africa for work for a week.  Then everybody got sick.  Lil' S1 has a fever and a cough; Lil' S2 has some sort of chest congestion going on and is also running a fever today; and I got wiped out by whatever it is two days ago.  I woken up the past few mornings feeling like absolute dog doo, but after I pop an Advil to bring my fever down, I start to feel a little better.  S's mom is here to help out, which has been huge.  She's totally fine -- not sick at all -- and she sleeps in the same bed as Lil' S2 every night.  It's crazy.  I think her immune system is like -- please, I was fighting sicknesses in India in the 1950s, you think your weak-ass germs can beat me?!

Anyway, I don't have a lot of energy at the moment, but I still wanted to put up a post, so I decided to tell a story -- a slice of life anecdote -- from my past that I thought of randomly the other day.  Here it is.

Back about 15 years ago, I had a friend -- she was my girlfriend, actually, but that's not particularly relevant to the story -- who lived in the DC suburbs in Virginia with her mom and her little brother.  They had a dog too -- a big mutt of some sort, I think mostly golden retriever.  I can't for the life of me remember what its name was or if it was a boy or a girl, but that's not particularly relevant either.  It was an old-school family dog.  It roamed the woods behind their backyard, ate table scraps, gnawed at bones, and had its own little dog quarters adjacent to the laundry room.

This dog was really old, and its health was rapidly deteriorating.  It was way overweight, which given its diet isn't surprising (although if I was a dog who could live fat and happy for ten years or eat bland dog food everyday for 12 years, I might pick the former), and it had trouble hearing... and seeing... and walking... and eating... and breathing.  It spent most its time sleeping, and when it was awake the only way you could tell it wasn't asleep is that its eyes were open.  When it did have to move, it would walk a few steps, and then lie down on its belly and pant for a few minutes, and then repeat the process.  Basically, this dog was about to go.  The inevitable was nigh.  It happens.  Dogs don't live that long.

Everybody knew this, except my friend's mom, and even she knew it on some level, but she was in deep denial about this animal's prospects.  She was constantly taking it to the vet for various (unhelpful) treatments; she was convinced, I think, that it was going to pull through and live forever.  She refused to even consider euthanasia as an option, even though many people, including the vet, were subtly (or in some cases overtly) pushing her in that direction.

So, one night, I drive over to their house, and as I'm pulling up, I see an ambulance leaving their driveway.  I get out of my car and rush up to the door, slightly alarmed, and ask what happened.  You can probably guess. That's right, her mom called an ambulance for their dog!  Apparently, its breathing slowed to almost a complete stop, and it literally couldn't move at all.  Her mom freaked out, so she called 9-1-1, and pretended like she didn't speak much English.  (She was a nonnative speaker, so she could pull this off convincingly, even though she'd been in the U.S. for like 30 years.)  She didn't lie -- she never said the creature in question wasn't a dog -- she just let the operator assume she was talking about a human, which, given it's 9-1-1, is a very reasonable assumption!

I'm indignant upon hearing this.  I cannot believe somebody would abuse a public emergency service like this.  What if there had been a real problem -- one involving a human?  I'm also mortified beyond belief, and I wasn't even there when it happened.  It's like watching the most cringe-inducing episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm ever -- times one thousand.  I'm feeling an unusual mix of second-hand embarrassment and first-hand righteous anger.

But then I'm told the part that really blows my mind: The EMTs treated the dog!  Apparently, the crew chief was a huge dog lover, and he was moved by the situation.  He got his team to put the dog on a stretcher and carry it to the ambulance.  Then they gave it oxygen, like they actually put on one of those masks and hooked it up to a tank and pumped oxygen into its lungs.  Eventually, they got it breathing again regularly on its own, and then they brought it back inside, packed up and left.

Hearing this, I'm utterly dumbfounded.  I want to yell at her mom for being so foolish, and I want to yell at the EMTs for indulging such foolishness.  But what can I do?  What right do I have to get mad?  The entire situation really has nothing to do with me.  Plus, nothing bad happened -- on the contrary everybody came away from the encounter happy.  The dog was happy; its owner was happy; and apparently the EMTs were happy.  Everything worked out.  All is well.

Until the dog actually died a week later... 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Entry 408: Inappropriate Things Teachers of Mine Have Said and Done

S is leaving today for Africa for a week for work.  But her mom is coming up to help me out, which I always appreciate.  She missed her flight last night because she forgot her ID, which is not really that big a deal, other than I now have to pick her up at the airport in a few minutes.  So, I will try to power through this post.  Today's subject is inappropriate things teachers of mine have said and done.  The impetus is the sordid Larry Nassar/USA Gymnastics/Michigan State story.  One thing that struck me reading about it is just how many times grown-ups ignored or didn't follow through on the accusations of the girls.  If just one adult had really pried into it, just really been dogged about it, the whole thing likely would have exploded years ago and countless girls would have been spared.

"O' Captain!  My Captain!"
I never liked this scene, or really this entire movie.

It also got me thinking about inappropriate things I witnessed teachers say and do throughout the years -- things I mostly just let slide over me because I was a kid.  Here is an incomplete list in chronological order.  All of these things are accurate, with no embellishment, as best as I remember them.
  • In middle school, a group of girls used to tell dirty jokes to our PE teacher, and he would laugh and encourage them instead of telling them they were being inappropriate.  I only remember one: Why did the condom flea finally leave?  He was pissed off.
  • In junior high, I had a science teacher who was a fountain of inappropriateness.  There was a courier system at our school where students would work in the office for credit, and then they would hand deliver documents to teachers in their classrooms (email and texts and such weren't really around yet).  Whenever this particular teacher would receive a note from a female student, he would open it in front of the class and "read" it aloud, saying, "Meet me in the bushes after class... ooh la la..."  That was his go-to joke -- pretending 14-year-old girls wanted to hook up with him in the bushes.
  • This same teacher would also complain about how, as he got older, his weight was shifting from back to front.  He would shake his sizable gut and say, "Look!  All my weight is here!" and then he would turn around and grab his ass and say, "And look at this!  I'm losing my heinie!"
  • And this same teacher also twice challenged students to fights in class.  The first involved this hilarious, mouthy girl who wasn't at our school for very long.  She told him she was gonna "slap the shit out of [him]," and he stuck his face out and said, "go ahead and do it then!"  Another time he heard a student said something disparaging about him under his breath, and he went on a rant about "being a man," which ended with a threat that this kid "might wake up someday and find a stool busted over [his] head."  The kid responded by picking up a stool and saying, "I'll fuckin' break this over your head right now!"  Two other students intervened, and things went back to normal.  Nothing came of it at all -- no principal visits, no suspensions, no conferences with the parents -- nothing.
  • I actually really liked this teacher's class because it was so insane (and he was a pretty compelling instructor when he was sticking to the subject matter).  He would also do crazy, unsafe experiments -- he burnt magnesium once and singed all the hair on his hand.  Another time he passed around a jar of mercury to the entire class and the only safety precaution he took was saying "don't open it."  Dude was a creep though.  Years later I heard a rumor he was let go by the school because of a harassment accusation.  I never verified it, but it's completely believable.  I'm actually surprised it took as long as it did.
  • In high school, I had a teacher who let a student do a striptease as part of a presentation to class, and he got all the way down to a pair of Speedos.  Her defense was that it was no worse than going to a swim meet, which is kinda true, but also, context matters.
  • This same teacher once came to one of my wrestling matches and afterward she told my friend, who was in her class with me, "DG has a very pronounced arch of back muscles.  I had never noticed that before -- then again, I had never seen him half-naked."  And, by the way, my response to being told this: "Hell yeah I do!"  I couldn't have been less offended or creeped out (male privilege).
  • My high school math teacher, who was also the adviser of the lacrosse team, smoked cigarettes with some of my teammates after we won the state championship.  (It was only the B League championship, but we celebrated like we were kings of the world.)  To be fair, the season was over and the kids smoking were seniors, so their "honor pledge" was no longer valid (we had to sign a statement saying we wouldn't drink or smoke, if we wanted to play sports).  Also, they were mostly of age, but, let's just say, nobody was checking IDs.
  • One of my classmates told me years later that she would wear a short skirt to this same teacher's class because he gave her special attention when she did.
  • But nobody was as bad as my high school literature teacher.  This guy so desperately wanted to be smarter, funnier, and more inspiring than he was.  He thought of himself as Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society, but he was more like the teacher on an episode of The Wonder Years who gets Kevin Arnold to organize a walkout to protest the Vietnam War and then leaves him in the lurch when it's time for things to actually go down.  This guy was always making comments about sex and drugs trying to "connect" with us.  Once we were out on a class walk to write about nature, and he turned to me and said, "What do you think, DG?  About a pound of weed, would do the trick for everybody, don't you think?"  And I said, "A pound?  You want everybody to be comatose?"  And he said, "Well, that's the idea," and winked and walked away.
  • Another time he was telling us about the relationship of two of his ex-students, whom he identified by name and who were only two years older than us (I knew both of them), and he told us they were sexually active while they were in high school.  Think about that: A teacher told his students about the sex life of two of his other students.  At the time I didn't realize what a fucked up breach of privacy that is.
  • It gets worse.  A friend of mine from high school told me he was at a party at some kid's house whose parents were away, and this teacher showed up and steeled away to a backroom with one of his students to get a blowjob.  She was 16; he was in his mid-50s.  I'm pretty sure the age of consent in our state at the time was 18.
  • The blowjob was just a rumor, but it's completely believable because he actually got into a full-on relationship with this girl, and they had to move to a new state to avoid scandal.  I never really knew what happened after that, but I heard (shockingly) it didn't work out.  The thing is, I'm not against May-December relationships -- not at all -- whatever makes adults happy is fine by me.  But adults is the key word there.  You at least have to wait until both parties are cognizant decision-makers of their own accord.
  • In grad school, one of my professors had a fling with one of my classmates.  In this case everybody was a consenting adult, so I don't think it's that bad, but the details, which were relayed to me first-hand by my classmate, were pretty sleazy.  For one thing, he kinda played her by making her think he was more into it than he really was.  Then he compromised his integrity as a teacher for her.  She was taking one of his classes while the affair was going on, and she was doing very poorly in it (she wasn't a strong student), so he cancelled the final and just gave everybody in the class an A, so he wouldn't have to deal with giving her a bad grade.  Lastly, upon their "breakup," he told her, "I will still always think of you... when I masturbate."
And on that note... until next time.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Entry 407: Alright, I'll Talk about Aziz Ansari

The Aziz Ansari story is a perfect example of the type I'm not going to comment about on social media.  It's one that's highly nuanced and contextual and not conducive to snippet opinions.  But I figured I would write about on this blog because I can write as many words as I feel I need to properly express myself, and because not many people read it anyway.  If you are not familiar with the details of the story, you might want to read the article and the criticism of the article and the criticism of the criticism of the article before you go on.  (And for a take-down of the way the story was reported read this article or listen to this podcast.)

My position on it is a total cop-out.  I'm struggling to find a definitively right or wrong position.  It seems to me as if reasonable people can disagree.  Personally, I don't think any party involved, neither Ansari nor "Grace" nor the publisher of the story,, behaved particularly admirably.  If I were forced to pick who was the "most wrong," I would definitely say Ansari -- he behaved like an entitled jerk; he violated the "camp site rule" with a younger woman; and he acted in a manner totally contrary to his "woke" persona.  (It shouldn't be surprising, when actors -- people who get paid to pretend to be something they're not -- don't behave publicly how they do privately, but it still is sometimes.)  However, I can't wholeheartedly get behind Grace either.  She's young, but she's still a grown woman.  If she was as uncomfortable with how the evening was going as she claims to be in the article, she should have ended it long before she did.  She had many opportunities to do so gracefully and safely throughout night.  By her own account, Ansari wasn't threatening her or holding her captive; he's an older celebrity, but he has no tangible power over her; he's not her boss or mentor or anything like that; the stakes for her saying "thanks but no thanks" and booking an Uber as soon as he made her feel uncomfortable were not that high.  At what point do you hold an adult responsible for her own actions, even if somebody is being an asshole and cajoling her to do something she doesn't want to do?  I mean, she says that within a few minutes of being in his apartment they had already kissed, gotten naked, and exchanged oral sex with one another.  Things were moving too quickly for her, but she doesn't say anything or extricate herself until after they had done everything but intercourse.  It's understandable somebody would misread the situation and believe these were consensual acts.

(And, by the way, one reason I feel comfortable saying all this is because it's the position of several woman I've talked to about it -- including my wife.  We actually got into a mini-fight the other night because she was adamantly arguing that it's on Grace to leave if Ansari isn't responding to her cues, and I was taking the other side.  At one point I said the phrase "victim shaming," and she just left the room.  That one is on me -- it was a poor choice of words, and I know she doesn't like debating things once they get the slightest bit combative (whereas I don't mind and even enjoy it at times).  Also, it was super late, and we were tired.)

But the story doesn't end there.  Over the course of the rest of the evening, it sounds as if Ansari basically hounded her and harangued her for sex, even after it became pretty clear she wasn't totally comfortable.  This isn't cool -- at all.  It's not adhering to the "tea test."  Ansari was trying to pour tea down Grace's throat at every turn.  As a guy, the move there is to sit back and let her initiate things if she wants to.  If she doesn't, then you can offer her the sofa or a cab home and go to bed.  Alternatively, you could just ask her flat-out what she has in mind for the night's activities.

But a big part of the problem -- maybe the problem -- is that neither women nor men have been socialized to behave in a way that puts sexual encounters on an even footing.  There are unhealthy societal norms and pressures in play.  Girls are often disincentivized from an early age to advocate for their own desires, and they are often incentivized to acquiesce to boys.  For these reasons, it becomes a lot harder for somebody to say "Grace should have left!" and just leave it at that.  Yeah, she should have, but she didn't, and, judging by the responses this story has produced, a significant portion of the female population understands exactly why.  In fact, Vox wrote a piece about how completely ordinary this type of thing is.  You can't just dismiss the voices of millions of aggrieved people under the guise of "personal responsibility -- not my problem."  Well, you can, it's called libertarianism, but you're not going to actually solve anything that way.

By the same token, Ansari grew up in our society just like Grace did -- he grew up with the same messed-up norms and pressures.  Men are incentivized to behave the way he did because it often results in sex -- and not just bad or coerced sex.  A lot of times being persistent results in good, fully consensual sex.  I don't think I'm speaking out of school by saying a lot of women like it when a guy is aggressive.  Some think it's a turn-on; others want sex, but don't want to feel guilty or stigmatized about wanting sex, so they behave passively and leave it to the guy to crack through the veneer.  This is especially true, I think, of younger women and in one-night hookups.  Thinking back to when I was that age, it seemed like there was always this little pointless song-and-dance that had to be done where a woman would feign hard-to-get, even if she wasn't and didn't want to be.  I hated this little song-and-dance -- it's the primary reason I didn't hook up much then.  (At least that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)  It's like that joke on The Simpsons:
Alien Kang to Marge: Congratulations. You have been selected for our crossbreeding program. To put you at ease, we have re-created... the most common spawning locations of your species. You may choose either the backseat of a Camaro... an airplane bathroom, a friend's wedding... or the alley behind a porno theater. 
Marge: I absolutely refuse to go along with this. But since I have no choice, I'll take the alley.
My point isn't that guys have it "just as bad" or that anything like that (we don't) or that these societal norms are distributed equitably (they aren't).  On the contrary, my point is that the model for how we pursue sex, especially when we're young, can be really fucked up for everybody involved and women get the worst of it.  I've heard many people say something to the effect of -- okay, maybe Grace's encounter isn't sexual harassment and it just falls under the category of "bad sex", but isn't it still a big problem if thousands and thousands of sexual encounters result in one side feeling regretful and shitty about how things went down?  That, to me, is the crucial question, and the answer should be a resounding "yes."  How do we fix that big problem?  That's the subject for an entire other post, but I think real sex education (not just anatomy) would go a long way.  Also, I suppose, we need people to continually call out this type of thing when it happens.  In that sense, Grace -- even if you take issue with how she comported herself, or the clumsiness with which the piece was reported -- might have done a good thing by telling this story publicly.  It kinda sucks for Aziz Ansari to be publicly embarrassed for something in his personal life, but he did behave like a cad, and if Grace doesn't call out a celebrity by name, this story doesn't crack the mainstream.  Plus, I think Aziz will be fine.  I don't think his career is done or anything like that.  Nobody thinks he's Bill Cosby.  If he were to drop another season of Master of None tomorrow, I would still watch it.

Until next time...

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Entry 406: Literal Shitholes

It is uncanny timing for Trump to bring to the forefront the term "shithole," as here in the G & G household three-fourths of us are having issues with our literal shitholes.  I don't mean to make of light of Trump's remarks -- they're awful and hurtful to a lot of people.  But they certainly aren't surprising.  This is who Trump is, and this is why his base likes him.  We've known this for a long time, at least since his "birther" movement.  For me, that was all I needed.  He perpetuated a totally made-up rumor that our first black president wasn't born in the United States.  That's still mind-blowing to me.  If, from that, you drew a conclusion other than Trump is a racist, then you are living in an alternate reality.  Trump and his base simply confirm what we already know about them over and over again.

And since we are on the shithole subject, let's clear the air on a few things.  Nobody gives a shit that the president said "shit" -- the vulgarity is clearly not the issue, and anybody bringing that into the discussion is either dumb or disingenuous.  And "shithole" isn't just an indelicate synonym for "poor country."  Trump wasn't using "kitchen table talk" or whatever it's being called.  This is the type of language he only uses for nonwhite people.  There are many poor regions of the United States, many of them are predominantly white, Trump never uses harsh language on these places.  The poorest states in the union -- Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia -- are places Trump regularly flatters as "real America".  So, it's not just a lack of eloquence; it's cut-and-dried racism.  In fact, if I had to sum up the essence of Trumpism in a sentence, I would do it thus: Trumpism is the belief that poor black and brown people are poor because of personal failings and bad decisions -- laziness, corruption, violence, etc. -- and poor white people are poor because the government is taking their money and their opportunities and giving them to undeserving poor black and brown people.  In short, Trumpism is white supremacy.


In personal news, as implied above, I and all my issue caught a nasty stomach bug this week, and it's been pretty gross.  I've had my fill of poop and puke, that's for sure.  I'm savvy enough to get it all in the proper receptacles; unfortunately, I cannot say the same for my children.  We've already had to clean our sofa, our bathtub, and our foam play mat, in addition to running a load of laundry seemingly every twenty minutes.  It's no fun at all.  I think we are through the worst of it, but I'm not sure.  Lil' S1 seems to be feeling better, and I'm feeling better.  I think Lil' S2 is the only one still in the thick of it, and he's easier because he always wears a diaper.  This is one time I'm glad he's not potty-trained yet.  S, for her part, has somehow avoid illness, despite sharing a bed with all three of us at various times.  I think she has a tougher belly because she lived in India when she was young and she travels so much.  She's become inured to different types of germs that the rest of us aren't -- or maybe she's just gotten lucky, who knows?

To make things a little bit more annoying, I had to take the car into the shop this morning.  (I did so without shitting my pants, which was the primary objective.)  Not only did the battery need to be replaced, but a cover underneath the driver's seat had to be rebolted.  It got knocked loose at some point, presumably somebody backed into it while parking and didn't leave a note (I used to clandestinely watch cars parallel park from my window, and it's like a game of bumper cars when drivers don't know anybody is watching), and we never took care of it.  Of course, that just made things worse in the end, as it started to actually drag on the street, and I had to jimmy-rig it with duct tape just to get it to the repair shop.  The man who runs the repair shop is really nice though.  He didn't even charge to rebolt the cover.  The only problem is you have to get your car to him by 8 am or he fills up for the day.  So, on a day in which I really needed to sleep in (my stomach issues have been causing me to make a lot of nighttime runs to the bathroom), I had to wake up and drop off the car, and then take the bus back -- in the rain.  Well, that beats subfreezing weather, I guess.  But not by much.

Whenever our kids have tummy problems, our pediatrician tells us to give them crackers and a clear soda, so we have a sizable supply of Ritz and Sprite on hand at the moment.  I've been indulging myself with little tastes, even though I've been trying to cut back on excess snacking.  Ritz are a particular weakness of mine.  They are especially good with cheese or Nutella, but even plain they're solid.  I can easily put down an entire sleeve of them in a sitting if I let myself.  As for soda, I forgot how good it is because I drink it so seldom.  Replacing soda with fizzy water is a relatively easy way for me to drastically reduce empty calories and sugar consumption.  But I'd be lying if I said a sip of Sprite doesn't light up a pleasure center in my brain.

Alright, I hear a child screaming my name.  That's all for today.  Until next time...

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Entry 405: Ringing In 2018

I'm back.  I've been back for a while actually, but, unfortunately, despite the high single-digit readership of this blog, other things often take priority over it.  My break was good -- as good as it can be in 2017 with a madman still running our country.

We first drove to Columbia, South Carolina to visit S's parents, which I always enjoy, except for the actual driving part.  It's a guaranteed fight between S and I straight out of the gate because she always wants to leave at some ungodly hour, 5 am, or something like that, and I don't.  I'm down to leave early, but my early is more like 8 am.  S has good reasons to want leave that early -- less likely to hit traffic, more likely the kids will sleep, etc. -- but I have a good reason to not want to leave that early: It's too goddamn early!  She always tells me, "you can sleep in the car."  But I can't.  It is almost physically impossible for me to sleep in a car.  I can try.  I can close my eyes and lie still, but I won't fall asleep.  S is one of those people who falls asleep really easily and can quickly adjust her sleep schedule without too much trouble, and she doesn't really get that other people (e.g., I) can't do that.  It's a little bit like a happy person telling somebody who's sad, "just be happier."  Anyway, we did end up leaving early (but it was more like 6 am, by the time we actually got out of the house) because, when it comes down to it, there are only a few things in life over which I'm going to absolutely dig in my heels.  For the most part, I utilize a complain-and-cave negotiation strategy.

Anyway, Columbia was nice.  I had to work remotely the entire week before Christmas, but I didn't mind much because many people (clients, bosses, coworkers, etc.) are on vacation around then, so it's almost always a low-stress time of the year.  Also, if I'm being honest, working is often preferable to being with the kids all day.  The little one in particular is a hellion at the moment -- an absolutely adorable hellion, but a hellion nonetheless.  He's full-on "terrible twos," which in our experience is actually "terrible two-and-half-through-four-and-a-halfs."  The big one is past that stage, thankfully.  He still gets in trouble, of course, but the random tantrums are much less frequent, and when they do come you can usually reason with (i.e., bribe) him to clam down.

S and my big getaway for the week was going to see the new Star Wars film, which apparently is a new annual tradition.  It was fine.  I didn't love it; I didn't hate it.  I give it one thumb sideways.

On Christmas Eve Eve, we drove to Hilton Head Island where we met S's sister and their cousin and his family.  We rented a house about a five minute walk from the beach.  S's dad and I drove down together in the same car -- a three hour drive.  It went pretty well.  We chatted a bit and then when he would start to doze off, I put in an earbud and listened to a podcast.  The only annoying thing is that he kept wanting to navigate using a road atlas, and I'm like, "uh... I got this thing called GPS on my phone..."  At one point my phone told me to get off the major highway and take a back road, so I did, and S's dad insisted that I stay on the highway.  I told him that the phone usually knows the best way, but he was adamant, so I went back to the highway ("complain and cave," remember).  You know what's coming: Smash cut to us sitting in a traffic jam.  To his credit, he was very apologetic, but that didn't make the cars in front of us move any faster.  At least from that point on he let me follow the GPS instructions without protest.

Hilton Head is a weird place.  It's really nice, even in the winter, but something like 70% of it is gated communities, so you get the feeling the rich people are keeping out the plebes.  There's this historically area with a little lighthouse and a bunch of quaint, kitschy establishments that is inaccessible by public road.  You either have to pay a fee or use the beach (or pretend you're part of a group of people who have an access code, like we did one time).  But the entire island is cozy and fun and you can rent bicycles and pedal around for a day.  (I ended up riding about 20 miles, so I also got in a good workout.)

The housing accommodations were good.  For the most part everybody got along.  Putting seven adults and four kids into a moderately sized house can cause problems, but it wasn't bad.  The kids constantly had something on that was making noise -- TV, iPad, what have you -- so that was annoying.  Also, our kids are at a bad age for sleeping in their own beds.  Lil' S1 is fine by himself, but what happens is Lil' S2 demands one of us sleep with him, and then Lil' S1 feels left out and also demands one of us sleep with him, so to sleep somewhat comfortably, we really need two queen-size (at least) beds.  If they are in the same room, it's a plus, as we can sometimes get the kids in the same bed.  Also, if the floor is carpeted and we have enough blankets or a pad, we can jimmy up a makeshift bed for them on the floor.

But at the beach house, we only had one king-size bed, and the floors were hardwood.  The first night we all slept together -- or rather we all laid there together.  I don't think there was ever a moment in which all four people in bed were asleep.  It was just too many bodies.  The next night I slept by myself on the couch in the living room, which I realized halfway through the night folded out into an actual bed -- so, yay me.  It still wasn't very convenient though, because it was in the main area attached to the kitchen, so I pretty much woke up whenever the first person woke up, and S's family is a bunch of early risers.  They would try to be quiet, but, again, I'm not a normal sleeper.  If people are whispering or making coffee or fixing breakfast five feet from me, I'm going to wake up.  That's my curse of hyper-vigilance.  I probably slept less on my vacation than I sleep at home.

After Hilton Head, we went to Columbia for a few more days.  S and I went to see The Shape of Water (our second movie of the trip!) at the local indie theater -- you know what I'm talking about.  There is at least one in every city.  It's an older building in the downtown area; the theaters are small; it's staffed by a bunch of young people of indeterminate race and gender (plus one old man with stringy hair in Chuck Taylor Converse); the concessions are actually reasonably priced; and they show movies that are actually decent instead of Superheroes: The Reawakening, Part Six.  The movie wasn't great, but it was pretty good -- thumbs up.  I spent the first half of it trying to figure out where I knew that guy from.  Thankfully it dawned on me (he was the lead in A Serious Man) or the entire movie might have been ruined.


Back in DC now, and it's fucking cold.  I don't think the high for the day is going to get out of the teens.  To make matters worse, I'm having trouble starting my car.  I have to push the button like 20 times before the engine actually starts.  I couldn't start it at all last night after I picked up the kids from school/daycare, so we had to take the bus back, which required me to walk with two kids a quarter mile or so to the bus stop and then wait for 15 minutes in the cold.  (They didn't seem to mind though; they always get a kick out of riding the bus.)  I had AAA come out to test the battery, but that might not be it.  I might have to take it to the shop -- so annoying!  My least favorite part of being an adult is the need to own and maintain an automobile.

Alright, I gotta call it a post.  Until next time...