You Can Go Home Again, But Why Would You Want To?

I have now lived most of my life in places other than where I grew up. As the years go by, I feel less and less of a connection to my hometown. Downtown only has a few of the same businesses as from when I was a regular patron. Even the movie theater has a different owner, and seven more screens. There is a new mall outside of town and the old mall is gone. My high school is now the middle school and my grade school is now used for something else. Even my parents have relocated to a different neighborhood. Still, its not really all these things that make it feel so strange in my erstwhile hometown. The strangeness comes from how different I feel from the people that are still there.

I have no idea if this is normal. From a very young age I was aware of the fact that I wasn’t like most other people in my town, especially my family. I was also aware, early on, that I didn’t want to be like these people. Of course I wanted to be accepted by my family and the people I interacted with, but I wanted them to accept me on my terms. I believed that there was something better that could be found somewhere else. I couldn’t express what it was but I was certain that it existed.

My biggest fear growing up is that I would never leave my hometown. I was worried that I’d end up in a job that I hated, married to a woman that I had to settle for, raising children that I felt obligated to have. Now I didn’t escape the job issue but I did get out of my hometown and did marry the woman of my dreams and we did not have any children. The life I live now may have been unusual if I’d stayed but in New York you can be anything.

So I became someone that my parents didn’t understand. I became the type of person that my parents never liked. If I wasn’t their son I’m sure they wouldn’t like me. Even as their son, some days its a close thing between like and dislike. My going back home is a reminder of why I was so anxious to get away. My family is a reminder of what I never wanted to be. I’m sure my parents know how I feel and there is an uneasy detente between us, neither side wanting to say or do the wrong thing.

I go home less and less as the years pass and I’m not sure if things will ever change. Maybe I need to accept that I will never be the child that my parents want. Maybe I need to not have a chip on my shoulder about it. I decided long ago that I would no longer make decisions based on what they wanted or thought was best. But if you can’t be yourself when you go home then why bother?

Change the Conversation

Don Draper, ad man, once said “If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation. The liberals in the US Congress have spent two years upset with what the conservatives have been saying but have not been able to change the conversation. In the wake of the results last November which changed the Democrats from the majority to the minority in the House, there are signs that they may be trying to change the conversation. In his State of the Union speech last week, President Obama started to try and change the conversation. The biggest problem, however, is the arrogance of the liberals which may make changing the conversation impossible.

We liberals are convinced that if we could just have a calm, honest discussion about issues then people would be convinced of our viewpoint. We think of ourselves as being about facts and that the other side is about emotion. After the violence in Arizona, one of many incidents of gun violence in Arizona in January but the only one which featured a member of Congress, there was talk about increasing civility in political discourse. This appeals to the Democrats because they are tired of losing the debate, which they feel has been argued with emotions and not facts. If only they could calmly explain to the American people how their ideas are the correct ones then public opinion would change.

The problem is that for some reason people don’t like to be condescended to. In my own experience, I’ve tried to calmly explain to my conservative parents exactly what is right about my ideas and wrong about their’s and the result is always annoyance and anger, on both sides. My parents have accused me of condescension for over twenty years and I’ve not been able to sway them on any issues. Maybe if I could wrap myself in the flag and accuse them of being un-American in their beliefs then there would be some movement.

I think this may be the way for the Democrats to go also. I know that they are loathe to stoop to the tactics of their opponents, convinced as they are in their own superiority. The problem is that this attitude is a turn-off for people outside of the urban areas of the United States. It’s all well and good to live in New York secure in our superiority and certain that we know what’s good for all those rubes in the red states. The problem is that all these rubes can vote and the evidence indicates that they don’t like being called rubes. My parents are solidly working class and I’m pretty certain that they have never voted for a Democratic candidate for President. Aligning themselves with the liberal elite is unthinkable.

So the liberals should change the conversation. We may believe that we really know what’s better for everyone but even if all of our ideas are better, no wants to hear us talk about them. We are all so busy congratulating ourselves on how clever we are that we haven’t noticed that there are a lot of people that are sick of us. Matt Taibbi warned that by labeling the Tea Party supporters as lunatics and crazy people that the Democrats were underestimating the power of their ideas. The proof was delivered in the ballots. Sometimes its not enough just to be right. The liberals should change the conversation now if we want to have the opportunity to prove that we’re right.

Read it or Watch it First?

Fantasy geeks like myself can’t wait until April 17. That is the date that the new HBO series “A Game of Thrones” debuts. The series is based on the first book of the scheduled seven book A Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin. (Four of the books have been published so far.) Martin’s series was no doubt partly inspired by Tolkien’s but there is also plenty of what Tolkien left out, namely characters who are neither wholly good nor wholly evil. And sex, plenty of sex.

As most people have not read the book that the first season of the series is based upon, the natural question is should I read the book first or should I watch the series without having read it?

I’m not sure there is any right answer. A book is always going to be more detailed than a movie or a TV series. It’s the stock answer for those of us who like to read books first to say “There was so much more in the book.” “You should read the book, it’s so much better.” Saying that polishes my elitist credentials, but its really beside the point, isn’t it? A great movie or TV series should be able to stand on its own and not rely on having foreknowledge from having read the book.

What it comes down to is what you really want out of a book or movie or TV series. If you haven’t yet read A Game of Thrones then you have to decide which you want to enjoy more, the book or the TV series. As much as I enjoyed the book (well before the TV series was picked up by HBO), there is something to be said about going into the series cold and experiencing it without preconceptions. From what I’ve read and seen, the adaptation appears to be faithful to the book. If you are like me and don’t have a extra time to bang out the first book before the series starts then I recommend not worrying about it. Relax and wait for April. After all, there are three more books out there for you to fill the time between the end of the first season and the (hopefully) second season.

Just know that the books are so much better.

I Need a Drummer (But Not a Bass Player) to Make Me Happy

So I just finished reading Life, Keith Richards’ autobiography. Along the way I learned some interesting stuff about how Keith gets that sound out of his guitar, how the Glimmer Twins wrote songs and I learned way more about heroin addiction than I ever wanted to. But the most surprising thing I learned is that Keith apparently didn’t think much of Bill Wyman, the Stones’ original bass player.

As a young music fan, I naturally worshiped the lead singers and lead guitarists. To make a sports analogy, these guys are the goal-scorers or the guys that hit home runs or the guys that take off from the foul line and dunk it. When I got older and fulfilled my lifelong dream of learning how to play guitar, I had the good fortune of being taught guitar by a bass player. My teacher opened up a new idea to me that the rhythm section of a band, that is the bass player and the drummer, are the bedrock on which the band’s sound is built. Someone has to keep time, someone has to make sure that there is a rational place to come back to after going off on some attention-getting tangent. My teacher told me about the great James Jamerson and Benny Benjamin, who of course I’d listened to for hours but didn’t realize it. I learned about Carol Kaye. I learned about Paul McCartney as a bassist. I can’t really hear (or feel) what the rhythm section of a band is doing, but it opened my mind to the possibility.

So even before I started reading Life, I was aware of a quote from somewhere that stated that most bands follow the rhythm section while the Stones follow Keith. With all this in mind, I expected Keith to confirm this. Instead, Keith repeatedly mentioned the genius of Charlie Watts and how they worked together musically. For Keith, the musical foundation of the Stones is he and Charlie. I don’t remember any comments about Bill Wyman as a player. I think Keith had nicer things to say about Bill’s replacement, Darryl Jones.

The legend is that Bill Wyman was wanted as a member of the band initially because he had an amp. Maybe to Keith, that’s all he was.

And the Award Goes to Someone, Anyone

Around the time the old year turns into the new, people get busy giving awards and making up top ten lists of various things. Critics list top ten books, top ten TV shows, top ten movies of the year. Magazines and newspapers list the top ten stories. Around this time of year, the best soccer player in the world is crowned and the baseball writers make their decisions about who gets in the Hall of Fame. Hours are spent writing and reading and debating these awards and nominations which all have one thing in common: Identifying the best is beside the point. The reading and writing and debating is the point.

Sports award are never identifying the best players. If that was the case then you would expect to see players win the awards for defensive as well offensive excellence. This is rarely the case. The FIFA World Player of the Year and the Balloon d’Or awards (now combined into one award) have been awarded primarily to strikers and offensive midfielders. While no one can argue that Lionel Messi, the winner of the FIFA Balloon d’Or is undeserving, the key player on Barcelona, his club team, is Xavi, a midfielder who’s main talent is passing the ball to his teammates. Xavi was as important to Barcelona as was Messi, plus Xavi’s national team, Spain, won the World Cup. But Xavi doesn’t score goals so the casual fan doesn’t appreciate Xavi. Casual fans are more common than hardcore fans so the awards have to go to someone that the casual fan can appreciate. In soccer, this means players who dribble through people and score goals.

In American sports, the awards are the same. NFL MVPs go disproportionately to quaterbacks and running backs. NBA MVPs are often the top scorers and no one cares if the MLB MVPs can play defense or not. Again, giving the award to the best player is not the goal. The goal is always to generate interest which will generate revenue. The sports leagues want people to tune in on TV, to show up at the arenas and to buy merchandise, all so that the next TV contract will be larger, the advertising sold during game broadcasts will be more expensive and, ultimately, the value of the franchises will be greater.

The goal of the organizations that give awards to movies and television shows is also to generate dollars. How could anyone be expected to determine who gave a better performance? Is it the performance that involved mastering another activity like singing or dancing? Is it the performance that required the most difficult accent? Is it the performance that was the most uncannily similar to the real person that it was based upon? And how do you compare someone who had to look credible as a dancer with someone who had to seem credible as a well-known public figure? Plus, the voters take into account extraneous factors such as whether or not an actor was unfairly overlooked previously, is the actor nice or nasty in interactions, does the actor come from an award-winning family. Also, if the actor is from a movie that is being given a lot of awards, undeserving nominees in other categories may benefit. In 2004, no one reasonably believed that “Into the West” from “The Return of the King” was the best song. Yet the Academy was intent on giving every possible award to the last of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, so the song won. Again, none of this is to identify the best.

It’s fun to read these lists and to be reminded of things that you may have seen during the year but there’s no reason to get emotional about any of it. No amount of awards can make you enjoy a bad movie and no athlete can be fully appreciated only by looking at their silverware.

As I mentioned, at this time of year people love to post their ten best lists. Some years there are more than ten and some years there are less than ten deserving recognition, but people list ten. Sometimes, people list 100, which of course is 10 times 10. The decimal numeral system (base 10) is the most widely used numerical base in the world. Do you want to know why? Look at your hands.

Another City in Another Light

When you have a job that you don’t like, you begin each day thinking about lunch, each Monday thinking about the weekend and each week thinking about the next three-day weekend.  And during this time of year, you start thinking about when you are going to be taking your vacation. In a lot of places in corporate America, you need to pick your days for the year in January. They won’t be set in stone but it is important to identify any scheduling conflicts with co-workers as soon as possible. Who is going to have to work the day after Thanksgiving? Who is taking the days before Christmas? The days after Christmas?

Vacation is probably my second favorite thing about my job. (The paycheck is first.) I get four weeks plus a couple personal days and I think, in general, that is pretty good. I’m pretty sure that I would take a worse job if they were offering six weeks vacation. For eight weeks vacation, I would consider taking a pay cut.

Soon after selecting my vacation days, I start thinking about where to go for my main vacation. A lot of my vacation days will be taken up here and there, day trips and family obligations. But each year the wife and I like to go away for a week somewhere. We haven’t decided where to go this year.

The choice is usually between someplace we’ve already been and loved and someplace we haven’t been but may end up loving. Do we choose Paris, with the great food and the pleasant people or do we take a chance on Croatia? Do we go back to Ecuador or is this the year we finally go to Peru?

I’d like to go back to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United, but I’m not sure I want to go back to England. We could combine the trip to Manchester with a visit to Ireland. Unfortunately, unlike in Iceland where we went last year, Ireland can’t devalue its currency and make the trip more cost effective.

The only problem with always looking forward to the next relief (lunch, the weekend, vacation) is that these things take on too much importance in your mind. The best lunch can never be as good as what I’ll hope it’ll be when I imagining it at 9:01. The weekend disappears in a flash and before I know it it’s Sunday night and I’m getting anxious about having to get mentally prepared for another week of work. And the dirty secret about a week of vacation is that you are twice as busy in the week before you leave and when you come back, all the things you hoped would be taken care of while you were gone are still there.

I know its churlish to complain about things about which other people may wish they could complain. Still, we can only manufacture problems out of the circumstances of our own lives. No doubt I’ll be complaining later this year that the water pressure in the hotel shower was inadequate. I just need to decide where that will be.

All This Has Happened Before

I have started off most of the last forty-something years with good intentions. “This is the year when I will accomplish something meaningful.” ” This is the year that I will look back on as the one that changed everything.”

My resolution this year was to start a blog. Check. Why? Because I can’t spend all my time watching TV and playing video games. At some point I have to try and use my brains for something else. Reading is still a favorite activity of mine but it’s a solitary activity and I want to do something that is a bit more social.

Facebook is not an option for me. Maybe it’s ego, but I just assume that there are people out there who are checking periodically to see if I’m on it. I’m not running from the law or a child or anything like that. I just want to control with whom I’m in contact.

So I’m not sure what this blog will be about. I’m not really interested in doing something very structured, like keeping track of how I spend the extra money in my paycheck thanks to the tax compromise. (It paid for this website.) I don’t want to have to do something in here every day as there won’t be something worth talking about every day. Maybe this blog will die a slow death.

I’ve started plenty of years with good intentions. All this has happened before. Let’s see how it turns out.