Thursday, May 24, 2007

American White Boy Minstrel Show

We had esteemed colleagues from Ireland visiting this week, and a veep had the idea to take them all for drinks at Bloomington's 'Irish Lion', the local approximation of an Irish pub, complete with menu items like 'Blarney Puffballs', 'Leprechaun Wings', and (they really loved this one) 'Offaly Salmon' (Offaly is landlocked, and has no major rivers). This was after he took them to the local steakhouse, 'Janko's Little Zagreb', where John Mellencamp occasionally eats. I've never eaten there, not in my 13 years of living in or near Bloomington, and since I wasn't invited for that bit, the streak continues.

The veep in question is much loved by the people at the European subsidiaries. He's in several photos on the walls at the facility in Limerick, and people have stories to tell about hanging out with him. A prevailing theory to explain this popularity is that he plays into those cherished American stereotypes with his full-on Hoosier accent with vulgarian tendencies, and his impressive gun collection (a favorite cherished memory for some of our European counterparts is going shooting with him. I did my part to reinforce the American gun-nut stereotype by lighting up and saying 'yeah, going shooting, that's a real American thing to do!' when I heard a story about a shooting outing). So he can get away with anything. I can hardly wait for the Australians to visit, we can all go for Bloomin' Onions at the Outback Steakhouse and maybe watch 'Crocodile Dundee' in his home theater (or, if he's really wanting to push the envelope, maybe 'Kangaroo Jack').

There is something to be said for playing into and reinforcing stereotypes as a way to get people to let their guard down and feel more at ease (but mostly, superior) around you. Actually a couple things can be said: that there's something artificial about it, that it's a lazy way to establish a superficial and weak rapport, that it's, in a word: pathetic. As Colonel Jay Garner, who was the interim president in Iraq for 3 weeks once said: we should all look in the mirror and say 'Damn, we're Americans!' But not while the superior programmers trained at the Indian Institute of technology are around, because they'd put that shit on YouTube, and suddenly a billion people are laughing at your sorry Yankee ass.

Of course, I could be totally wrong, and it could all be genuine. I have a Hoosier accent and vulgarian tendencies. I like to shoot guns when the opportunity comes up. I have been failing to appreciate classical music for almost 40 years now.

Tony Soprano reminded us all recently that ''remember when' is the lowest form of conversation'. The exception to this is when meeting with people from foreign lands. Then 'do you have XBox in Ireland?' is the lowest form of conversation. Sadly, the conversation never really rose above that level, but the Irish folks had a good sense of humor about the whole thing, and actually at one point a couple of them started singing some traditional Irish songs because the music ('that shit they play in tourist places') was getting on their nerves. Much beer was consumed, but nobody spilled the beans about the inner workings of either place, we were all too professional for that (in my case the need to drive home limited the beer consumption, and I refrained from telling too many tales as a result). They will return home to tell their friends about the silly place with the Leprechaun Wings and wonder at how much cheese Americans put in their food.

Monday, May 14, 2007

In the shadow of the library

'I'd rather die a pauper in the shadow of the libraries of Chicago than roll in wealth in Oklahoma.'

That's what my great grandfather wrote to his (relatively) wealthy family in Oklahoma. To me, it's a really defiant and cool thing to say: knowledge (and maybe even more importantly, the pursuit of knowledge) is worth more than a fancy house or the envy of the other folks in town. He got his wish, actually, dying in a flophouse that was walking distance from a really great library.

I respect the guy tremendously for doing his thing, but I seem to have fallen pretty far from that tree, spending a fair amount of time in Martinsville, IN enjoying a lake house and hot tub and all that noise instead of strugglin' in some metropolis or another. But we do have the internet, wikipedia, all that good stuff now. There's no substitute for a good library (or restaurant, come to think of it - Golden Corral just wasn't doing it for us, and has as much to do with our Exodus from Martinsville as anything else), but if you want to learn a thing or two, or escape from people who don't, you can, easily enough.

He also wrote a book that he believed debunked the theory of evolution, and spent considerable time orating and debating this topic on Bughouse Square in Chicago. He'd be pretty disappointed in my heathen ways.

His was also one of those strange stories where his son, forced to step up because Dad was so often off writing or debating or drinking, turned into a truly amazing individual. WWII veteran, steady provider for a ridiculously huge and coincidentally Catholic family, greatest generation and all that. Maybe a crappy childhood is good for kids? Not unlike in the book Dune, where the Sardaukar are raised in an environment where 6 out of 13 die before the age of 11, so the ones that survive are incredible, merciless warriors? My wife's childhood wasn't always Full House with Bob Saget, and she's pretty amazing, too.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still taking my daughter for ice cream this weekend, I just hope I don't ruin her future by doing so.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Little Shopworth of Horrors

Yesterday we stayed at the West Baden Springs Hotel as part of its soft-opening. It is a site to see, and has not been a hotel since 1932 (a combination of the Great Depression and modern medicine sunk it, but it was a Jesuit Seminary for a while anyhow). The dome in the center is amazing. You could re-enact the Battle of Britain inside with radio-controlled squadrons of Spitfires and Messerschmitts, maybe have a Churchill look-alike hanging out at the bar on the periphery.

On the way down we stopped at a Shopworth because we needed Goldfish crackers and water. It looked like it was a grocery store from the outside. I stepped inside and entered a post-apocalyptic, 28 Days Later, mostly empty grocery store. Also, it smelled very strange inside. Somewhere between urine and cleaning fluids.

Where there'd ordinarily be produce, there was nothing but that green astro-turfy lining. They didn't even have the couple token un-rotten apples ('irradiation!') our protagonists in 28 Days Later were able to score. The whole back half of the place was a white expanse of empty shelves. I tried and failed to find Goldfish, having to make due with 'Wheatables' with a December '06 expiration date. They did have water, though.

The whole time I was there I felt a sense of dread that was even worse than the low-level panic attacks I suffer at Best Buy. I was really happy to get the fuck out of there. I don't know what was going on. I know there's a science to the layout of a grocery store, product placement, the order you encounter different products. It's the sort of thing you laugh about because it seems like such a trivial application of mental energy, until you stumble on a place that looks like it was designed to fool you for a second into thinking everyone you've ever cared about is dead.

The rest of the trip was a lot of fun, though, especially the train trip past Larry Bird's boyhood home.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

True Hip Hop Facts

Inspired by the 'Hip-Hop Nuggets' issue of 'Stop Smiling Magazine - the magazine for high-minded low-lifes', and the fact that I got 50 million search hits for mentioning 'Ghostface Killah' in the last post:

  • Many people know about the tragic deaths of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, but a little-known hip-hop tragedy was the fact that Ol' Dirty Bastard died only a few days before a blueberry-flavored crack was released on the streets of New York.
  • In fact, if you speed up the croaking sound at the beginning of 'The Drunk Game' from Return To the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, it's ODB saying 'I wish there was blueberry-flavored crack'
  • Many hip hop heads stopped smoking marijuana after the release of Method Man's 2nd LP, Tical 2000: Judgement Day, although no anti-drug messages appear in the lyrics or liner notes.
  • Although the looped sample of Minister Farrakhan laughing on the now out-of-print 'Edutainment' CD by Boogie Down Productions makes him sound equal parts creepy and insane, this wasn't KRS-ONE's intent.
  • Ghostface Killah has the diabetes, just like Wilfred Brimley and 20.8 million other people in the U.S.
  • Ghostface Killah pronounces it 'die-a-bee-teez'.
  • MF Doom is actually 5 people who take turns wearing the mask for performances and 'featuring' appearances on other peoples' records.
  • Ice Cube considers these the 3 greatest challenges of his life: growing up in South Central Los Angeles, writing lyrics the untalented but wealthy Eazy-E could deliver, and thinking up good things to say about his latest movie 'Are We Done Yet?' for his appearance on 'The Today Show'
  • Proof that hip hop artists are smarter than their colleagues in the entertainment world: no prominent hip-hop artists are Scientologists.
  • Eminem was fined $20,000 for shoving an e-meter up a Scientologist's ass, and was required to attend anger management training.
  • KRS-ONE's toenail clippings have written better rhymes than Paul Wall.
  • D.J. Screw got the inspiration for his trademark 'screwed and chopped' style from country music sensation Mel Tillis.
  • Many music journalists are surprised and bewildered to learn Big Boi from Outkast is a big fan of Kate Bush, because at a meeting of the music journalist's guild in the early 80s, they decreed that black people aren't allowed to listen to Kate Bush.
  • Ghostface Killah
  • Ghostface Killah