Post #135: An Open Letter

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An Open Letter to the Hotel Pool Lifeguard in Montreal who Suffered From the Delusion That She was on Baywatch While I was There Swimming With my Kids and Not Doing Anything Wrong and in No Danger of any Kind:

First off, and I’m not just being hyperbolic, I’ve never seen a lifeguard at a hotel pool in my life.

Second off, we were here last night and the lifeguard then was so hands off and on-her-phone-the-whole-time, that I honestly thought she just liked the sweeping view the penthouse floor afforded of the Montreal skyline or was maybe hiding from her annoying family or dealing with a text-based spat with her boyfriend. It wasn’t until my sons and I were toweling off and slipping on our shoes and I was reflecting on how weird it was that this girl had been sitting there playing on her phone for over an hour that it occurred to me: she’s a lifeguard. This small hotel pool has a lifeguard. This small hotel pool has a lifeguard? She was so non-lifeguardish, and rightfully so–hell, it was just me and my two sons in the pool–that I felt bad for her afterward, wondering what they paid her to sit there all day while moms and dads brought their kids up to the pool to swim, and hoping that they threw in the free continental breakfast to make it worth her while.

Third off–this is not Baywatch. Okay, I know you’re a lifeguard, and therefore you are actively being paid to guard lives, which means you should be on your game and ready to intervene if and when a life needs to be saved, but let me break this down for you. Your hotel’s pool is like 20×20. The deep end claims to be 7 feet, though was more like 5 1/2 because I am under six feet and could stand up flat-footed and have my entire head out of the water. Same goes for the shallow end, which claims to be 4 feet, but is not. I am here with my two sons, and am actively swimming with them. I am a visibly capable swimmer. As is my eldest son. There is another family here with three small children, but both parents are present and they are both in the water, and no more than three feet from their children at any given time. And yet, you feel the need to walk the perimeter and glare down at us like you’re huffing the fence line at Guantanamo, ready to shoot the first thing that moves. There were moments when my youngest son Leo climbed onto my back for a “dolphin ride” and I could feel you walking over in your creepy slow-motion footsteps and hovering over us, your arms interlaced behind your back, that I was sure I was doing something horribly wrong. Had I kidnapped these children? Had one of them hit his head and was bleeding out into the chlorine and I hadn’t noticed? Was I a horrible parent? Oh, no. Wait a second. That’s right. We’re in a tiny fucking hotel pool and I’m swimming with my kids.

I have to wonder, which of you–the night before hands-off life guard, or you–was better living up to the job description outlined for you? Because your approaches to the job couldn’t be more different. I picture the lifeguard interview process, candidates being grilled like Jason Bourne before they throw that bag over his head and water board him to test his allegiance in The Bourne Ultimatum. What are you willing to sacrifice to keep these guests safe, even though they are in no apparent danger, nor will they be?

“Do you swear to protect and serve the guests of the Residence Inn Marriott even though they don’t need protecting?”

“Yes!”

“Don’t swear unless you mean it soldier!!” (slap across the face)

“I mean it!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes…wait, what’s the pay again? Seven-fifty an hour?”

“Let’s not mince details soldier!” (slap across the face)

“Wait…how deep is the pool? Under six feet?”

Perhaps I’m being unfair. Perhaps you suffered a mis-hap earlier in life, or a water-based tragedy and you’re committed to making sure that never happens again. If that’s the case, you’re the best, and I take all this back.

Perhaps you’re bored and lonely in your personal life, and so goose-stepping across the wet tile and gesturing with your index finger at the too-large splash my son has just made playing Marco Polo, helps fill in the gaping hole in some way.

Perhaps this is your small contribution to making the world just a tiny bit better.

Either way, lady, you’re freaking me out. I’m here swimming with my kids. If one of them starts to drown, please feel free to jump in and save them. But since that’s not going to happen, fuck protocol and let’s see that cannonball, eh?

**PS…this is my second recent post which would seem to disparage Canada, Canadiens, and Montreal specifically. Let me just say for the record that I love Canada, Canadiens, and Montreal in particular. But c’mon, we bloggers have to use the material life throws as us!

Post #134: Concert Etiquette au Centre Bell.

14jjpxpxSo, my wife and I ventured up to Montreal last weekend to see John Mayer at the Bell Center. Mayer shredded, wailed, crooned, and serenaded us at one point with a fake Japanese garden projected behind him while he sang songs solo acoustic. It was a great show, featuring Mayer’s full band and his blues trio, and I recommend catching Mayer on his current world tour, but that’s not what I want to talk about. If you’re interested, here’s a review of the show from the Montreal Gazette. Or, if you want to read up on John Mayer and his current goings on, including various non-sequitors and narcissistic ruminations about the nature of celebrity and the strangeness of the modern condition, here’s a recent profile from the New York Times.

No, what I want to talk about is the Canadian crowd. Namely, I want to talk about their deference, their politeness, their near silence, their I’m-not-gonna-stand-up-ness, and their overall laid back and staid approach to seeing a rock show in a large venue, which they responded to with about as much gusto as you would muster for a street performer who you begrudgingly decide isn’t half bad before you drop a buck into the kitty, then go get some frozen yogurt.

Let’s start with contrast. Five or so years ago, I went to see Phish at a hockey arena in Albany, New York. There was no smoking allowed inside the venue. Did that stop the Albany crowd? Please. By the middle of the first set, the place was like a bar in Mad Men, washes of smoke clouding your vision, wispy swirls of it gray and pink in the stage lights. So thick you just knew you’d never quite get the smell out of your clothes and likely have to burn or throw them away. And, being a Phish show, at least half the smoke was not from Camels or American Spirits, but had a more, shall we say, herbal inflection.

I’m not saying I liked the smoke. I did not. I’m just making a point.

john-mayer-vaguely-teases-title-of-new-single-01John Mayer also played in a hockey arena. The Bell Center is home to the mighty Montreal Canadians. But there was not a single puff of smoke, tobacco or otherwise present. When’s the last time you went to a concert at a large venue and you didn’t see anyone smoking? Even indoors. In fact, I think if you’d lit up in that place, the locals would have smothered you in gallons of warm, overpriced Molson, then escorted you from the premises.

The couple to our left arrived late, mid-way through Mayer’s first whole band set. They sat down, settled for a moment, took a couple cell phone pics. After that, they did not move. At all. They clapped politely between songs, but otherwise stared down at John Mayer as if he was no more real than a vision on a television screen. They did not stand for the encore. They did not show any more animation following a wailing solo, or a song’s crescendo, than they did for a ballad. In fact, virtually nobody moved in the whole place. The crowd was appreciative and I think genuinely enjoyed the show–they were cheering by the end–but the lack of hooting, dancing, or any other kind of external pleasure or tom-foolery, which I’ve come to expect as part and parcel of seeing live music, mystified us. I’m not a rowdy concert goer, but I like to whistle and cheer and get my white man’s overbite on as much as the next guy. Usually, I follow the flow of the crowd. The crowd stands, I stand. They hoot, I hoot. But that night, the crowd was so mellow as to be almost sedated, and I kept looking around wondering if I was missing something. Wondering if I should lead the charge. But we were afraid to stand up since nobody else was and so kept our seats and clapped politely like everyone else.

A couple of times I went to the bathroom, only to find the beer lines empty, the hallways bare and silent, the souvenir stand abandoned.

I began to wonder if there are unwritten codes around concert  etiquette that are regional and perhaps even national. Thoughts on this? Was I witnessing some sort of national politeness that felt utterly foreign to my crass American instincts? Or was I myself that brash, noisy, hard drinking American that a Canadian citizen might be quietly judging as uncouth or uncivilized?

pere-lachaise_chopin_graveI was once standing near Chopin’s grave at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, admiring the weeping virgin atop it and the maudlin bust of the great man at its center, some of Chopin’s haunted and tinkling melodies dancing through my memory, when I heard a man shout, “It’s over here baby!” I shit you not that at that moment, my reverie was broken as an obese family of four ambled down the dirt path wearing matching American flag t-shirts on their way to Jim Morrison’s grave. I hid in the bushes until they passed, lest I be accidentally linked to their horribleness in the eyes of a local.

That’s not what I’m talking about.

I appreciate quiet and being able to sit and enjoy a show. I don’t talk at the movies and I’ll shush you if necessary. And generally, I’m not in favor of smoking at indoor venues because it’s gross, but the near capacity crowd at the Bell Center last weekend brought a Lay-Z-Boy vibe that I found wholly unfamiliar, and not a little disconcerting.

I believe in wearing it on your sleeve. Someone rips a sweet blues solo, how else are you supposed to show your approval save shouting into a crowd, whistling, or high-fiving the person next to you? You gotta let em feel you. Arms folded, dead eyed, and silent is no way to rock and roll, Canada.

But perhaps I’m being too harsh. Too judgmental. Dare I say, too American?

I still love you, Montreal. But you gotta loosen up a little. A $13 Molson should do the trick.

 

Post #133: Stomach Flu 1, Me 0

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Today is my fourth day with a vicious bout of what is almost certainly stomach flu. As such, it felt like a good time to make a list to document my experience.

THINGS I HAVE NOT DONE THE PAST FOUR DAYS:

 

  1. Gone to work
  2. Slept for longer than 2 hours without waking up cloaked in sweat
  3. Taken off this red sweatshirt I’m wearing right now
  4. Eaten an adult sized meal
  5. Had coffee
  6. Consumed an adult beverage
  7. Left my house for longer than 10 minutes
  8. Changed out of sweatpants
  9. Showered (okay, I showered this morning, but it was a solid three days)
  10. Hugged or kissed my wife
  11. Hugged or kissed my children
  12. Worn my glasses
  13. Driven a car
  14. Seen any of my friends or colleagues
  15. Read more than 2 pages of a book (no energy)
  16. Kept any food or drink in my system for longer than 90 minutes (gross, I know, but it’s true)
  17. Worried about what the mirror was telling me
  18. Put on deodorant (what’s the point?)
  19. Been able to be even a half assed parent to my two sons (praise my wife)
  20. Had a conversation longer than 5 minutes
  21. Been without a mild to severe headache
  22. Gone longer than three hours without taking my temperature
  23. Consumed a beverage (excluding water) that doesn’t end in “ADE”
  24. Had on a pair of shoes for longer than 10 minutes (see #7)
  25. Stopped thinking about how awful I felt and when, oh sweet lord, when was it going to end?

 

Keep me in your thoughts, won’t you?

 

Post #132: Abundance, Etc.

remote_control_0306You’re sitting in bed trying to decide what to watch on Netflix. There’s a beer on the nightstand. A spouse beside you. You’re yawning, but it seems silly not to at least start something. After all, you’ve got so many choices at you’re fingertips. So you click on the Apple TV and start searching. And searching. But before long, there’s a restless jitter in your brain, a little thunder storm in your gut. And you know it immutably…you’re going to fail at this. The sheer quantity of choices renders you paranoid. What if you make the wrong choice?

Should you try Bloodline? You’ve heard that Narcos is good. Or perhaps something offbeat like Jane the Virgin. What are you in the mood for? You’re not quite sure, are you? You think back to what your co-worker told you you had to watch. Or what your friend couldn’t believe you hadn’t seen yet. Was it Westworld? Game of Thrones? Something like that, you think. What you know for damn sure is that you can’t watch them all–there’s simply too many–and so you better make it count. Time is life’s most precious non-renewable resource, and you’re sure as shit not going to waste any of yours watching, or even taking a chance on watching, something subpar. Why would you even dare? Not with so many choices.

You scroll the “New Releases.” Then the “Suggestions for You.” You cycle through the “Recently Watched” to see if there’s something you started last week that you forgot you started last week that you may or may not have liked. You remember you like Cosmos, but it’s so out there and brainy. You’ve heard that documentary about Design is pretty good, but are you in the mood for something so heady before bed? You’re tired, after all. You worked a full day, and you’ve got to thread that needle to end it just right.

Perhaps you’ve been going about this all wrong, you think. Maybe you’re not in the mood for a TV Show at all. After all, there’s been some great independent films released in the past couple years, haven’t there? You’re a little behind, so why not catch up right now? What was that one called, the one with what’s her name from Mad Men? Someone said it was pretty good, a little weird, but in a good way. You go to look it up on your phone, but then you remember there’s a basketball game on that you wanted to watch. Except you cancelled your cable subscription. You spend ten minutes clicking on promising links on your phone to find a bootleg stream of the game, but the one that seems like it would work isn’t compatible with your operating system, and the others all want you to download something sketchy, so you figure you better not. You toy with the idea of just buying the NBA League Pass so you can watch a game anytime you feel like it, but it’s expensive and the season’s over half over. You put your phone down. You’re supposed to be watching TV, remember?

You get another beer. Your spouse is nodding off. You go back to Netflix and figure you’ll try to search through Genres. You start with documentaries. You’ve always liked food shows. Are you in the mood for something artsy and brooding like The Mind of a Chef? Or a guilty pleasure like Beat Bobby Flay or Chopped? Except Chopped is kind of stupid, isn’t it? Or do you like it? You honestly can’t remember. But the decision matters. You know it does. This decision matters because you know that it’s one of a thousand tiny mirrors you’ll hold up this year that all ask you what kind of person you are. What kind of person do you want to be? Now, more than ever, you get to decide exactly who you want to be, all through the glorious power of choice, of options.

Maybe you’ll watch John Oliver on HBO. But you read a lot of news anyway, don’t you? What it it feels like a re-hash of what you already know? And what if by the time you realize you wish you hadn’t started it you’re too far in to commit to something else?

You run your fingers through you hair. Your back is a little sore from the way you’re sitting and how tense your shoulders are.

You’re getting tired now. That second beer is about gone. You click off the light and settle into you propped pillows. You finally just click on something, a drama you heard was good. It’s got what’s his name in it. From that show that you sort of liked. You take a deep breath. Good. You’ve decided. But now you’re tired and you don’t last more than a few minutes before you fall asleep. You wake up an hour later mid way through the second episode of the show, or maybe the third, which has automatically started, and you’re annoyed with yourself because you really wanted to watch this show. You heard it was good. Someone told you it was. Maybe tomorrow. You’ll do it right tomorrow.

Post #131: A Podcast for Your Pleasure

flat_sharp_logo6_burg_grey4So, yes, I haven’t written a new post in an embarrassingly long time. It’s not because I don’t love you. Getting an MFA and starting a new podcast has kept me sadly away from this platform, and from all of you fine people.

I did want to let you know, though, that I have a new endeavor I’m excited to tell you about. A podcast.

I assume you know what a podcast is, but just in case, it’s like a radio show that you don’t listen to on the radio. You can stream it, or download it.

My show is called Flat Sharp, and it’s about music. My co-host Matt Saraca and I each choose one song per episode to discuss and that random pairing becomes fodder for a discussion about music, pop culture, and beyond.

I’m very excited about it, and would love to have you as listener. You can find our first two episodes below. You can also connect with us through our website and also through Twitter or Facebook. Let us know what you think.

 

Cheers. Until next time…hopefully sooner.

Post #130: Authority Zero Needs Ya

Had he never married my step-sister, I likely never would have met Jason Devore (center, dark tank top), or  become so well acquainted with Authority Zero, the Arizona based band he leads. Authority Zero delivers a blistering brand of punk/ska/ heavy metal (check out this video of them doing “No Other Place”), and I highly encourage you to check out their music, or to see them if they visit your neck of the woods. They tour constantly, so it’s likely you’ll have a chance. They’re bad ass, and some of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.

But though I’m excited to recommend them, I’m writing about them for a different reason. A few days ago, only three dates into their six-week Summer Sickness Tour, Jason and his band mates had their van and trailer stolen in San Antonio, Texas. When the van was eventually recovered, not only were the van and trailer damaged, all their gear had been stolen, an estimated $100,000 in guitars, amps, custom drums, and underwear. That’s right. These assholes even looted the band’s clothing.

Being a touring band trying to sustain a life is grueling work. These guys live in a van for weeks at a time and don’t always know what kind of audience awaits them in the next town. They endure long drives, friend’s couches, shitty hotels, and diner food week after week. Yeah, they could do something else, but they grind it out tour after tour in tough conditions because they love what they do and the uncertainty they battle day after day is a small price to pay for the thrill of bringing their music to the audiences that sustain them. Now I don’t know what kind of soulless fart cloud you have to be to rob a band and deprive them of their livelihood. And maybe it doesn’t matter. But these moments make you wonder what the hell is going on out there.

Authority Zero soldiers on and their Summer Sickness Tour continues. What choice do they have? But to do so, they could use some help. A friend of the band started a GO FUND ME page to support the band to finish their tour and begin to replace the irreplaceable. If you feel so inclined and you have a few extra bucks, consider supporting the arts in this odd, but essential way.

Post #129: The Seeker

For the first time I’ve been reading Irving Stone’s biographical novel Lust for Life, about the life and artistic pursuits, and general unwavering obsessions and fanaticism, of the great Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, whose work is so known and admired it’s almost a cliché. Van Gogh was an artist who suffered a great deal, more even than I’d ever realized, even though many of his worst wounds were self-inflicted. He eschewed paying work and jobs that would monetarily support his efforts, instead relying solely upon the charity of his brother, Theo, and others, which was barely enough to live on. Better to live in poverty with moth-eaten clothes, a writhing hungry belly, and early wrinkles upon his battered face than to compromise even an inch. In short, Van Gogh was single-minded and epically stubborn, and once he dedicated his life to producing drawings and paintings, he was unshakeable in that pursuit. It should also be said that it’s pretty likely that Van Gogh suffered from some undiagnosed mental illness and that were he alive now, he’d be popping Prozac like Tic Tacs.

Despite some early encouragement, many of those who’d originally supported Vincent’s art, eventually turned against him and tried to talk him out of this pursuit.  This included his cousin by marriage Anton Mauve, who was one of many who disputed Van Gogh’s claim even to be an artist and tried vehemently to dissuade him from pursuing his craft. Now, before we wholly demonize this un-supportive enclave, it should be said that Van Gogh was a bit of a leech. He borrowed money he never paid back. He was socially awkward, frequently inappropriate, and ignorant to the sorts of daily social norms that lubricate the vast majority of our interactions, which are constantly suffused with the suppression of true feelings in exchange for being liked and getting along. Van Gogh possessed no such filter. He showed up at people’s houses. He said weird, creepy things that would have found him the odd man out at every party he attended. It’s likely that he would have been very difficult to be around and remain friends with. So while I found myself angry at Mauve and others, there’s context to their frustration with Vincent and their eventual rejection of him.

I’m only about halfway through the book, but I was struck by the following exchange, in which Van Gogh bumps into Mauve weeks after they’ve had a terrible quarrel that has driven a perhaps irreversible wedge into their relationship. Van Gogh tries to apologize to Mauve and invites him to visit his studio to assess his most recent work, even though Mauve (who regularly loaned Van Gogh money and initially supported his work) has grown frequently, even cruelly, dismissive of Vincent’s efforts. After assuring Vincent he will do no such thing, Mauve asks:

“Do you call yourself an artist?”

“Yes.”

“How absurd. You never sold a picture in your life.”

(Here is where my ears perked up and my nervous system began to murmur. I have been writing constantly for nearly twenty years and have made little to no money from my writing in that entire time. I’ve often felt embarrassed over that fact, even though I know the same is true of so many writers, many far more talented than I. It’s Van Gogh’s response to Mauve that has continued to resonate and whisper. He says…)

“Is that what being an artist means–selling? I thought it meant one who was always seeking without absolutely finding. I thought it means the contrary from ‘I know it, I have found it.’ When I say I am an artist, I only mean ‘I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart.'”

I’m not personally sure what an artist is, and in spite of being one most of my life, I’ve spent little to no time thinking about what it means, let alone having such a clear understanding in my mind as Van Gogh expresses here and elsewhere. Is that bad? I always feel a little awkward when someone calls me, or I call myself, an artist. The word has never seemed to properly indicate what I do, what I feel, why I sit and write. But this idea of seeking, or striving, even in the absence of monetary, or other brands of external reward? That felt just about right.