Five Years Later…

Five years ago I started this blog off with a list. I had just turned 30 which to a then 29 year old was the beginning of the end.

“What have you accomplished in your 20s?”

“How will you spend your 30s?”

These questions plagued my mind until I got drunk later that evening in celebration of the milestone. They would meander in the back of my mind every now and then but didn’t find their way into the forefront until turning 35 earlier this weekend.

“What have you accomplished in your life?”

“How will you spend the rest of your life?’

The questions were less vague this time.

Getting old fucking sucks. There is no way to sugarcoat it. You spend the first night of your birthday weekend with close friends close to your age discussing what people close to your age at the time discuss: finding a house, the dwindling presence of water, and the satisfaction of staying out past midnight on a weekend. The second night, your actual birthday, you spend with a close group of people you know through a common interest. A fantastic group of people who are all still in their 20s amazed to hear you were born in 1981 and graduated high school in 1999. Nothing makes you feel older than the look on their faces when those words hits their ears. Priceless stuff.  The people are different. The topics of conversation are different. Alcohol is an arm’s length away. But the questions are still there.

“What now?”

“What next?”

Since turning 30 things have changed. New Job. New Place. New Car. And love. You hope to have one of those things every few years or so. Something to make the ticking of the clock seem worth it. But sadly not a lot of people can say they attain those every few years if ever. A job can become your security blanket. Something you depend on because it provides a paycheck. Doesn’t have to be a decent paycheck. Just a source of income. Unless its a career you’re passionate about but how many of us actually have those? Not many.

Your place can be like your job: familiar. It’s where we lay our head to relax our minds about our job which we wish paid more. Same with the car. The place we go during our lunch breaks to take a nap. A lot of these changing things are interchangeable as you can see. All of them except love. Love has found itself to be a fuel. A fire for change. Love from someone can emanate from within and branch out, becoming an extension of who you are. An extension called happiness which you’ve learned you’ll do just about anything to preserve it.

We tend to get more conservative with age. The dumb shit we did in our 20s doesn’t seem to have the same youthful charm after 31. So we succumb to a straight and narrow path that doesn’t rock the boat. Is it fear? Are we afraid to dream and dare out adventurously as we did when we were 21?  Or is it a white noise of nuisance that we see nothing more than as a waste of time? Who’s to say? We all come to our own conclusions eventually. But if we want to find the answers to those questions plaguing us we have to find out the “why”.

“Why this?”

“Why now?”

Happiness. That extension of love, I’ve learned, must be the catalyst of why I get up every morning. Not just a job that provides a paycheck for your car and place. Technically we don’t need to wake up for anything. We just need to get a cup of coffee and the caffeine will do the rest for us. But happiness has to be the reason for our existence. Do what makes you happy? We hear that so much, but how many of us actually do it?

“Easier said than done. Happiness doesn’t always pay the bills.”

It doesn’t but we’ve all gotten paid for shit jobs we’ve hated. Imagine how much more we’d make if we applied the energy happiness provides to something we did like. Plus, you’d enjoy it. There’s also that.

This isn’t a motivational or self-help blog or piece. This is just the somewhat drunken typings of a guy at 1 am who just turned 35. A guy who probably should go to work on Monday since he hasn’t worked a full day since Wednesday but won’t. I will show up eventually, probably Tuesday. But physically. Not mentally. My now-matured mind has been dedicated to maintaining happiness. Whatever it is, I have to search it out and chase after it. We only have a short time on this planet, just like the water. So why not do what makes you happy?

 

 

 

 

 

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The Ballad of Lebron James

As the clock wound down and Scott Brooks huddled together his young Oklahoma City Thunder team to give them the best speech that any coach could amidst a losing effort, the city of Miami began to celebrate as they did around six or seven years ago when they won their first NBA championship. Only this championship meant more for one individual than it did for an entire city full of beautiful people, a glamourous nightlife, and face-eating zombies (it’s either Zombie or Casey Anthony jokes until election time Florida, deal with it). The moment of glory and triumph would shine on one Lebron Raymone James (Raymone?) or as others have named him King James, The Chosen One, The Greatest, The original Don Dada, The Big Kahuna…you get the point. The guy is good at basketball and those around him have been telling him as such since he reached puberty; putting him in a selected group with the likes of Michael Jackson and “King’ Joffrey.

This is not a defense of Lebron James. Nor is it an attack. I’m just stating the obvious: Lebron James is probably the greatest basketball player in the world right now (NOT EVER) and simultaneously probably the most hated basketball player in the world. Not an easy accomplishment, but that’s how good he is. You either love him or hate him. There is no grey area. You can always cite him for being cocky as one of the main knocks on him. We’ve all been to high school and know how cocky some jocks can be, but when you’re a starter for your high school Varsity basketball team (as a FRESHMAN) and average over 20 points a game only to get better each following year which leads to being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and your games televised by ESPN, I’m sure as a teenager there’s a moment when you stop and realize “Hey, I’m pretty much THE SHIT aren’t I?”. And when no one tells you otherwise for the next 5-10 years and people start calling you The King, who are you to argue?

Not that that’s healthy. Clearly it isn’t. But that’s just the nature of the beast. When someone is as talented and gifted as Lebron is, it elevates them to a level that, ironically, puts them under a microscope and in sight of everyone’s crosshairs. Whether that is a sign of the times or just business as usual in the world of sports and entertainment, that’s the standard for success. You’re not successful at anything unless people are criticizing your every move and burning your jersey in effigy the way Iranians do the American flag. And I’m sure having “handlers” or a “team” doesn’t help. It’s different if you’re a genius on the level of a Steve Jobs or whoever created the Panini maker where all you know is to just create and revolutionize the way the world works and everyone else deals with the technicalities of business. But Lebron James is a basketball player. Show up to the arena, lace them up, score about 30 points a game, win the game, go home. Simple right? Not really. With the exception of some other elite players, most of the others in the league are fine to just go home and be left alone. But not Lebron. Lebron is larger than life and for the most part we are responsible. I am talking about the media who have publicized his every move and slip him into our subconscious with every highlight, cover story, etc. I’m talking about those who buy the jersey who help fuel the “brand” that is Lebron James. I’m talking about companies using him to endorse their product. Who the f*ck drinks Sprite after playing basketball that’s over the age of 14? Why is Lebron telling me to stay in school when he probably didn’t have to go to class and skipped college to go pro (I would’ve done the same in that position but irony is so blatant nowadays it’s like we’ve stopped trying to even hide it.)? But that’s their job. Create the stories to get people to watch, listen, and buy the product. The Kobe or Lebron debate is as relevant as the Biggie Vs. Tupac debate. None of it was real until a third party intervened and told us it was . What we need to do is take it all at face value and see it for what it is: Lebron James is nothing more than a basketball player and it needs to be left at that. The argument of whether you like him because he’s an asshole really has nothing to do with you unless you’ve played against him, ran into him at a party, or are from Cleveland (seriously, you guys have to move on).

After The Decision (What? You three people that are reading this thought I wasn’t going to bring it up?), all suspicions of Lebron’s selfish demeanor was confirmed. To publicly hold a live, televised 30-minute presentation to announce you’ll be leaving your hometown team to team up with two other All-Stars in Miami is pretty much a slap in the face, a kick in the balls, and a blowtorch to the family home you built with your own two hands. It was despicable, stupid, and most of all – unnecessary. But what many don’t know or care to know is that initially it wasn’t his idea. And yes, in hindsight I’m sure Lebron regrets it. But what does his decision-making or persona off the court mean to any of us who only see him from courtside or nose-bleed seats and television screens? More of us will remember The Decision and countless other tales of dickery. This is the reason Lebron is nothing even close to Jordan, Jordan was nothing like him. I’ve never met Michael Jordan, but I’m pretty sure he was an asshole and that’s what made him great.

For those of us who’ve seen him play at his prime we’ve witnessed Michael Jordan taking foul shots with his eyes closed, shrugging his shoulders mockingly at Clifford Robinson after drilling three-pointer after three-pointer in Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals, and we’ve also heard about him bitch-slapping Steve Kerr in practice yet this was all after the fact. Twitter wasn’t around then which I regret whole-heartedly as I would love to have heard about Dennis Rodman and Toni Kukoc outings. But I digress. Lebron is not the next Michael Jordan. No one is. Not because they can’t accomplish or replicate what he did but because we’re living in a different NBA era. We’re living in an age where Europeans are some of the best players in the league. Where 7-footers are practically bringing up the ball and draining jump shots as opposed to just staying underneath the basket and a slight touch on the wrist or forearm is labeld a foul and an actual foul is a flagrant. The sport itself along with everything around it has changed and Michael Jordan was the one who initiated that change. His level of play inspired the current crop of players we have today: Kobe, Lebron, etc. But his level of play also inspired companies such as Hanes, Gatorade, Ballpark Hotdogs (remember those), and most notably Nike to hop on to the Air express and take flight. Michael Jordan opened up the floodgates of endorsements and outside money-making interests to future NBA players for years to come so Lebron is just a small piece in the sports and entertainment universe. A universe Jordan helped create.

So while it was easy to throw jabs at Lebron for being good but not great enough to get a ring or for going bald, things have now changed. Lebron now has his ring, be it with some help from Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and most importantly Mike Miller (no relation to Reggie surprisingly) and Amber Rose and her dome are looking as sexy as ever. Though I’m more than sure this will not stop the “haters” (a word which has reached universal appeal…I miss good Hip-Hop) from finding something new to dissect about Lebron and his game. He’s a multiple MVP, he’s an NBA Finals Champion and Finals MVP, his stats are out of this world-why does the criticism come from everything that’s outside the court after the clock runs down to zero? Because it needs to. It’s a testament to how this machine is built and how important this individual is to the league, to the media-you name it. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

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Best. Medium. Ever.

Comic books are an interesting phenomenon aren’t they? In a way they’ve planted the seeds of storytelling (heroes, villians, romance, action, etc.) into the American subconsciousness and pop culture just as much as any thing Shakespeare or the Brothers Grimm ever wrote. Comics dazzled us visually from page to page. And eventually, page to screen.

Earlier today I had a chance to catch Green Lantern. While in my opinion it wasn’t as good as some had hoped, I didn’t think it was as terrible as most reviews had indicated.  I’m not familiar with the Green Lantern so from the opening credits it was a fairly hard sell for me.  First off, it’s the Green Lantern. His source of super-human strength and power comes from a ring whose origin is derived from an outside galaxy (still with me?).  Also, the Green Lantern is part of the Green Lantern Corps which consist of numerous Green Lanterns from numerous galaxies and solar systems throughout the universe (still there? hello?). It’s a lot to take in, I know. And there’s more to it according to the comics. A lot more.

 I grew up reading the early to mid-nineties run of X-Men and Spider-Man. I already knew who Superman was (who didn’t? This is America.) as well as Batman (probably my favorite character). And I’m sure I’m not alone. There’s a reason films like the Green Lantern were made: me. Actually, not me. In no way do I consider myself a comic book aficionado. Besides a handful of titles I read, that was it.  I couldn’t tell Hal Jordan from Guy Gardner or Kyle Rayner (thanks Wikipedia!). Rather movies like GL and countless others were made for that young boy(or girl) who walked into their first comic-book shop (A&S for me) and found a place you could spend hours upon hours looking through issues and titles, debating about who was a better Robin (whichever one’s dead), etc. Comics provided an escape for some the way sports and music do for others.

So what is it about them that  that studios are willing to shell out millions of dollars to put them on screen? Some will say it’s the following, the character’s fanbase. Put a little Wolverine on it and people will flock to the theaters. But it’s more than that.  It all begins with the story. Every film or book must have a strong story to engage their audience (every good one anyway). Comics have provided some of the strongest and most powerful stories some can ever think of. Characters created over 50 years ago still remain relevant today.  It’s more than just the cool outfits and colorful villians that are the DNA of a comic icon. It is the journey.

Without jumping rails, Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” Vol. 2 has an interesting moment in the film’s final act, a speech by the antagonist played by the late, great Keith Carradine regarding Superman. He describes Superman using the Clark Kent disguise as a way to fit in. A struggle of having to pass himself off as one of us even though he was superior to us, in a physical sense. How does one go about living their lives like that on a day to day basis? How can you go to school, study for a final exam, try to win over the girl next door, and fight crime without letting your sweet Aunt May know? How does Peter Parker do it? Why, with all the money in the world, does Bruce Wayne feel the need to don the Batman outfit and go off into the night to clean up the streets of Gotham?  And as for the X-Men, how do you live in a world where the same people you protect see you as a threat and want you wiped off the face of the earth (eerily familiar isn’t it?)? It’s those whys and hows that make the eyes go from panel to panel and keeps the pages turning. But after the rights are sold and the story moves to the big screen you will need more than just CGI and explosions to keep the audience enthralled. You need characters. Well-developed and fully fleshed out characters.

 

 As we prepare ourselves for the third incarnation of Superman to hit theaters next summer, one can’t forget Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman/Clark Kent, a role very difficult to live up to let alone match. Reeves’ portrayal gave us both the heroism and integrity of Superman and matched that with the clumsy, regular Joe Clark Kent was. His performance is timeless. Putting aside the campy Adam West Batman series of the 60’s, Tim Burton breathed new life into the character with Michael Keaton donning the cowl and cape. It was darker than what we were used to and as years passed others such as Val Kilmer and George Clooney took on the mantle, eventually joined by Robin and Bat-Girl. The franchise eventually regained campy form and laid dormant until Christopher Nolan reinvigorated it with Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, the origin story depicting Wayne’s  decision to become a symbol for Gotham City and his struggle to maintain and match the criminal element that fights back. Nolan’s final installment, The Dark Knight Rises, is set to drop this summer. And I use the term “drop” because I have no doubt it will be the ultimate mic drop to end all comic film debates.

 Bryan Singer managed to bring the X-Men to life with mutants who look no different than you and I longing for acceptance and learning to use and live with their powers and the hate thrown their way. They seem stuck in a never-ending battle between Charles Xavier’s idea of co-existence with humans and Magneto’s “Us or them” mentality. This dynamic originated in the comics but is also inspired by a real-life debate between two great minds. A debate which fueled the recent X-Men: First Class, a prequel whose foundation falls on the relationship of Xavier and Magneto in their earlier years. A relationship destined to be tested as the years pass.

Over the past decade, countless other superheroes have found their way into theaters and DVD players all over. Spider-Man, Blade, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Daredevil (eh), The Punisher (why can’t they get it right?), etc. And though not all have been able to be as succesful as others, they’ve proven to studios that there is a market for these properties.

 After the success of 300, Zack Snyder decided to tackle “Watchmen” which is a task within itself. Watchmen stands as probably the greatest comic of all time. It was a game changer for the medium. Set in a dystopian 1985 where Richard Nixon is still President of the United States and the Cold War is still a viable threat, the story starts off with the death of a superhero. From there we’re witness to a world where heroes are more human than ever. Alcoholism, rape, impotence – it opened up possibilities of where storylines can go for comics. And though the film was able to hold up (at least for me), it wasn’t able to capture the full scope of what we saw in those panels within those pages. What Watchmen did was never done in the medium, it set the bar and changed the tone for years to come.

 So yeah, these were all the thoughts that came to mind while watching Green Lantern. It’s difficult to make a summer blockbuster that isn’t a mindless, two-hour testerone-filled music video. What seperates that from a great comic book film is the character so many are familiar with and who he or she is without the cape, mask, and tights. Tony Stark is a wealthy arms manufacturer who has seen the error of his ways and vows to right the wrongs he is responsible for (did I mention he has a drinking problem?). Steve Rogers is a frail, sickly young man but a patriot with a strong heart given the chance to lead his country into victory in WWII thanks in part to an experiment that changes not only his physical appearance but his life altogether once he becomes Captain America. 

We can never lose sight of who these people are. Yes, I know they aren’t real. But whether we’re turning page after page or sitting in a movie theater for two-plus hours, geek or not, it’s real to us. We’re invested in that world because we’ve been there. We’ve felt like Bruce, Clark, Peter, Erik, Tony, Steve; all those guys. Watching them confront their insecurities and rise to the occasion on their own willpower is what will make it more than just another summer blockbuster. It will be an experience that brings us back to when we first met that masked man and caped individual.

 

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#visibility

It’s okay to be upset, if not angry. We are human aren’t we? We are allowed to feel or react to certain things in a certain way whether we have control over them or not. We tell ourselves that it’s futile to let something out of your reach or power control you emotionally. But just because those things are physically out of our grasp, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t effect us.

If you’re reading this you have a computer. If you have a computer you spend eighty, scratch that, ninety percent of your time on the internet where you most recently came across this. Now, you may not have searched it out but it reached you.  It came to you through word of mouth which in computer-speak would be described as “viral”. It fell on your lap(top) through Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, etc.  the same way as that eventual Zombie plague that will force you to pack up your loved ones with fellow survivors such as a crochety old man with a stupid hat who seems to constantly complain as well as your trusty but sketchy-as-of-late best friend. But I digress. The viral phenomenom is an interesting one because it apparently seems to work more than a physical piece of paper such as a flyer would. Every single one of us is on the computer for an insane amount of time so when we see something, we’re gonna look at it. Something very few of us rarely do when that stranger on the street hands us that flyer. We either walk past them or grab it and take a quick glance before throwing it away once we cross the street. Not with something viral. It’s in front of us. Our computers have taken over our televisions in the sense that if it’s on it, we have to watch.

So needless to say the Kony2012 experiment was a success. Did we find or capture Joseph Kony? As of this blog post, not to my knowledge. But people know who he is. They’ve spent money on their advocacy kit. Someone who didn’t even know Uganda was a country has a better idea of where it is (Africa right?). It doesn’t matter that the foundation Invisible Children has been criticized or that the man behind the film itself has been the subject of his own video recently. What matters is that the film did what it set out to do, get people talking and informed.

But why was it so popular? It wasn’t exactly new. Atrocities similar to the ones Kony has committed have been taking place for years, if not centuries, all over the world. How did this blow up so quickly? Was it the film itself? Was it White Guilt? Or was it just another trend that  makes waves on social networking, splashing into the American consciousness for 15 minutes before the next big trend hashtags its way into our hearts?

The flip side to the #StopKony #Kony2012 movement is the tragedy of Trayvon Martin. In short, an unarmed African-American 17-year-old boy is shot by self-appointed Neighborhood Watch captain George Zimmerman on February 27 of this year. In recent days new information regarding the shooting has come to light including the phone call from Zimmerman to the police minutes before Martin’s shooting. Zimmerman has yet to be brought in for questioning. For anyone familiar with the names of Emmett Till, Sean Bell, Amado Diallo, Anthony Baez and countless others; we’re aware that atrocities like these occur more frequently than they should right here in our own backyard. And though most of those incidents involve similar circumstances of injustice, police brutality, and excessive use of force;  understand that is not the issue. The issue is the lack of  “noise” being made in the name of Trayvon.

The great thing about the Kony video which I mentioned earlier was the fact that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, was talking about it.  I’ve seen postings on Facebook of people questioning the importance and relevance of the #StopKony movement. Their argument being that the focus should be on the problems we have here at home, one of them being visibility apparently. For the most part that problem was tackled when people found out who Kony was. They made him visible. And, in the process, a wanted man. Yet none of my friends or followers (whatever any of that means anymore) seem as gung-ho about the tale of Trayvon Martin. There is no short film. There are no celebrities. There are no promotional marketing materials. Just the facts and a story that’s been told countless times that still isn’t able to sell. Yes the story is a downer but it’s  relevant and American as apple pie. And though you may not wish to hear it, it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime fast. Once this tale is told, another will find itself on your lap(top) and whether you choose to read it or not it will always be there. Be it in another city or another state, it’s our backyard regardless. Wouldn’t you like to know what happens in your neighborhood?

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I love you! You’re great! You suck!

Someone once asked me why I watch sports. It seemed like a question an Alien would ask to determine whether Earth deserved to be enslaved or invited into the great Galactic Council. If that’s the case we’re f*cked because I can’t pinpoint a reasonable explanation as to why I do.  Males, for the most part, are genetically predisposed to be entranced by a bouncing ball, speeding fastball, or well-thrown pigskin for that matter; out of love and pure admiration. I grew up playing basketball religiously, therefore I understand and appreciate the sport and what it takes to succeed in it. For similar reasons I watch football. Speed, agility, being able to maintain course and hold onto an oblong-shaped ball while behemoths named Clay and Ray knock the ever living sh*t out of you? How can you not appreciate that? I can’t do that. I’m content with sitting my ass on the couch, eating Sun Chips (delicious), and drinking beer. And just by watching I contribute in the same way as those who buy team apparel, tickets, concessions, etc. – money.  So does that give us the right to call them talentless pieces of shit who are walking abortions? According to some, yes.

In a week the Super Bowl will be played. Yes, the circus-like media frenzy which combines the 4th of July, Lollapalooza, and a Michael Bay film (hopefully one of the good ones)  bound together by an actual game has arrived. Sports fans such as myself (Go Giants!) have waited for it since the NFL lockout took place almost a year ago. Casual fans appreciate it because it involves a party, alcohol, &  food on a Sunday in February. Nothing wrong with that.  Throughout the season the path taken by both teams was filled with wins, losses, injuries, stellar and subpar performances, etc. And we were all there for every second of it. Were we on the field? On the sidelines? In the locker room?  No. Most of us saw the games on television or on a computer, read about them, or saw 1-2 minute highlights that somewhat summarized everything we needed to know about a game, team, or player.  But when it comes to being a fan….

*takes a deep breath*

When you follow a team since childhood you develop a bond with them. Whether they represent your hometown, you’re enamored with their star player, you like their style of play or you just dig the team colors-you identify yourself with that team and become connected. A fan sticks with the team through thick and thin (sometimes blindly) because it isn’t something they just follow, it’s a part of their lives. For some it may even fill a hole in their lives which can be a problem depending on how big that hole is.

As I mentioned earlier, I played basketball night and day, through rain, sleet, or snow, 24/7 as a kid. My team was….the Chicago Bulls, obviously. Anyone who got into basketball during the Jordan era was most likely a Bulls fan, frontrunner or not. But I was more interested in Scottie Pippen, a player that can do it all: score, defend, rebound, run the offense, play multiple positions, etc. Jordan was the scorer and the walking highlight reel but one can argue whether or not he could win those 6 championships without Pip. I still don’t understand why he wasn’t the MVP the year after Jordan retired but I digress. As I got older and Scottie and Michael retired, I became distant from the sport. I didn’t play as much nor did I follow it, not for a few years. When I started following once again in recent years I saw a different league though Juwan Howard and Kurt Thomas are still there (seriously, how old are those guys?) Different players, new teams, a set of rules that, in my opinion,  play to making games more quick and flashy instead of competitive is what now constitutes the NBA. I love the game, watching from a neutral position (which is incredibly healthy). I don’t go to bed upset spewing hateful words to players (because they can obviously hear me through the television). Not with basketball. The New York Giants still have an emotional toll on me because they’re a roller-coaster of emotion, as is the case with most sports. Whether it’s a sense of entitlement or a void that needs to be filled, us fans deserve better. And we won’t hesitate to let you know how we feel.

We are all free to gather our opinions on players.  It’s a free country until China finally decides to take us off the international layaway rack and just buy us. After that, who knows? But for now let’s focus on the attention paid to our athletes which is honestly WAY too much. When you’re willing to buy a player’s jersey or shell out hundreds of dollars (or stab) for a pair of their signature sneakers you’re making it okay to put them on a pedestal and call them ridiculous nicknames such as “King”. Don’t get me wrong I love nicknames. Flash, Diesel, Superman, Black Mamba-they’re all part of what make the game fun and entertaining. In the end that’s what it is: entertainment. The outcome of a game should not  personally affect anyone not affiliated with the team and/or organization on an employment basis. Does it suck that your team lost? Absolutely. Should you dedicate time and resources to express directly to that player how terrible he is at his job and spit venomous explitives his way? Probably not. But I guess that’s what the internet is for.

Before social media outlets if you really wanted to let a player now how you felt you would have to go the Bobby DeNiro route which is really time consuming. But the internet is much easier because, let’s face it, no one knows who you are or what you look like which makes it easier to call Player X a bust or say he sucks. “Sucks” is a strong word and to label an athlete as such is a bit much. I know I’ve been guilty of using the word from time to time but I honestly can’t do what 90% of them can on a physical level so for me to sit on my ass and say that someone sucks is a bit much. But that’s just me. It’s easier to describe a less-talented player with that word than to go into the mechanics as to why he isn’t as good as he should, could be, or was. But I guess that’s what analysts are for right?

For those who have wondered what the male equivalent of a sewing circle, salon, book club, or girls’ night out is, it’s basically any pre-game, halftime, post-game show on CBS, NBC, FOX, ABC during every major sports season and every show on ESPN (The NBA on TNT is the exception. Great insight from great players, genuine chemistry, and Charles Barkley. ‘Nuff said). Getting an actual coherent thought from some “analysts” however, when not bickering or gossiping, is one in a million due in part to the genetic make-up. Some of these shows/panels involve mostly ex-players and “journalists” who want to be heard (read: Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith). That being said, a lot of what’s debated or discussed is biased. Certain people feel certain ways about certain players and that’s not going to change. Just because it’s on television and coming from a “professional” doesn’t make it true. In fact most, if not all, sports-related controversies are non-existent. There may be an inkling of truth to certain things but everything discussed on these panels should be taken with a grain of salt. I mean, there needs to be something to talk about on these shows right? Why not just make it up? But again, I digress.

The bottom line is sports play a huge, if not too important, part in our society. I can post links of  Penn State’s student body reacting to the late Joe Paterno’s firing amidst the Sandusky scandal, scorned Cavs fans burning Lebron James jerseys, or any generic Youtube clip of Soccer fans rioting and brawling in the stands. We place these players on a pedestal and bring them down, tearing them to pieces when they don’t act or play accordingly. Did we forget how much money these guys make? Did we also forget that these guys aren’t much different than us and that yes, some of them are assh*les?

Watching sports should be fun, thrilling, and inspiring. When an underdog beats the favorite or a player returns from personal tragedy, it should put smiles on our faces, a beat to our hearts, and tears in our eyes. It brings joy to not only spectators but the players themselves who grew up playing with passion and love for their respective sport. Watching an elite athlete perform at their best is a thing of beauty and a privilege. It should be appreciated, not be taken for granted.

So if you want to yell at someone buy an X-Box or PS3, put in Madden, and create yourself as a player. Try to be realistic about your athletic capabilities. You can’t can you?

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What is Hip-Hop to you?

This is not a review. Consider this a personal reflection of the part Hip-Hop music has played in my life. The Roots’  latest album Undun is a concept album. It tells the story of Redford Stephens, a young man we meet as he takes his last dying breath. The album starts from there and works its way up to that moment that brought him there. Every song takes us into the psyche of this tragic character, helping the listener see what he sees and feel what he feels. It is both powerful and a complete downer. But it is also their best work in my opinion.

Arguably you can say hip-hop’s inception (or recognition) came in the form of Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” a song everyone knows. And I do mean everyone. You can’t imagine the look on my face when I dug through my parents’ record collection and found the single, on vinyl; 12-minute mix and all. I thought it was cool enough that they had a fairly extensive Beatles collection along with the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. But the Sugar Hill gang? Really? My Dominican mother and Colombian father listened to this but I had to hide profanity-laced albums such as  Enter the 36 Chambers and Doggystyle? I guess you can make the argument that where Rapper’s delight is a feel-good g-rated party record, skits about games called “torture” and radio stations such as W-BALLS are just an example of how things can evolve. Or devolve depending on who you’re asking. 

Hip-hop personally made itself known to me in the early-mid 90’s. Though acts like Run-DMC, Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash &  the Furious Five, Afrika Bambatta, Krs-One, LL-Cool J, NWA, etc. were out years earlier; it was pretty much A Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight Marauders” album that had me hook, line, and sinker. The interplay between Q-tip and Phife, the production- it all left me wanting more; gearing me towards De La Soul and eventually later acts such as Mos Def, Common, Talib Kweli (who when paired with Mos and Hi-Tek formed Black Star and Reflection Eternal respectively), and of course The Roots.  A lot of it at the time was labeled “backpacker”, “underground”, “conscious” hip-hop.  Whether that was true or not is an entirely different conversation. But it was different and it drew me in.

You can imagine my disappointment living with the fact that very few of those artists got as much airplay as say Dr. Dre, Snoop, Wu-Tang, Tupac, Notorious B.I.G did at around that time (depending where you’re from. Hot 97 anyone?) were it not for that one cross-over hit (see: The Roots’ “You Got Me”).  Most of what did make it onto constant rotation were rough, rugged, street themes that would leave everyone’s head bobbing up and down and side to side. Call it gangster, call it thug. It was music to some. But I couldn’t relate to it. Not like I could with other artists.

I was drawn to Tribe because it was poetry to me. The lyrics were the foundation of what I saw hip-hop music to be. I need to know what the speaker is saying. A great hip-hop track will bob my head not just because of the beat but because I am agreeing with what I am listening to. The musical accompaniment that comes with it sparks a reaction in my brain cells which not only makes listening to a great track or album an emotional, almost spiritual, experience but a physiological reaction or a really good high. Hip-hop is the gospel of the human condition. The emcees are poets, preachers of the world around them; spreading their gospel from the inner city to the suburbs to across the oceans and into foreign lands. Too much? I don’t think so.

Hip-Hop itself is a rags to riches success story. The American dream. It came from nowhere with less than promising expectations and has now become this behemoth that is being used to sell products that no CEO would have ever signed off on 15-20 years ago.  To think that a body of music where some of it’s most memorable standouts include living in the inner-city (Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message”), teenage pregnancy (Tupac’s “Brenda’s got a baby”), and hallucination and paranoia ( Geto Boys’ “My mind’s playing tricks on me’) is now the same that has this, makes you wonder how we got here.

It could be one of two things. Hip-hop has gotten to the point where there is room for quality and critical acclaim and saturated, sugar-filled, family-friendly, non-threatening, mainstream…whatever you want to call it. Or hip-hop simply took the money and ran, leaving it’s younger, not as talented or pensive little brother in it’s place. As I mentioned, Hip-hop music is in itself a success story.  So I wonder, did it see that blimp in the sky and read “The World is yours”, got in way over it’s head and met it’s demise by taking a long dive into a shallow fountain via shotgun to the back? Or has it regressed? Has it been dumbed down thanks in part to the exploitation of countless studios and label execs who were more concerned with getting that one hit? Creating a cycle that starts off with unsigned hype calling out an established artist’s “street cred” on a mixtape, having the beef bolster the popularity of all parties involved, giving unsigned hype a record deal only to see him in a commercial for McDonald’s, busting a freestyle at the drive-thru three records in with sales dwindlng each one after the next? I want to say I’m overthinking this but I don’t think I am. Everyone’s gotta eat I suppose.

Hip-hop is a powerful artform. For many it inspires them. Could be the artist. Could be the song. Whatever it is it pulls people up, as does all great music. It educates and makes you think. That is why I listen to hip-hop. I know some want to just bob their head simplistically and dance. I have no quarrels with that. But my curse is my willingness to go beyond the simplicity of things.  For the most part, I don’t listen to today’s generation of hip-hop artists. Drake, Lil, Wayne, B.O.B., Wiz Khalifa, Waka Flacka (did I spell it right? Do I care? Not really), etc. Though if the radio’s on I’m pretty much a prisoner to whatever’s playing, at least until I get a car with a CD player.

 I will admit that the first song that got me into Tupac was the getting laid anthem “I get around”.  But one of his many greatest to me is “So many tears”.  Everytime I hear Biggie’s “Hypnotize” I always think of “Juicy” and how at a college party everyone on the dance floor repeated, in unison, “considered a fool/’cause I dropped out of high school”. People love that line because of the emotion and reality tied to it.  Hip-hop is soul music. It speaks to those who are struggling because the same ones that speak those words have struggled themselves. I remember acts like NWA, Tupac, Biggie, and countless others were seen as an unhealthy element. “Polluting” the youth of America. Race factor aside, what crime did they commit other than depicting, through music, a world they lived in. Who else was going to talk about it? Who was willng to listen?

Many stories are told through music. Sadly the majority of us are exposed to music that sells not tells. The story of Redford Stephens isn’t one many people may be willing to buy. It might not even be one some are willing to listen to. But it is definitely a story worth telling.

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My message to outer space

Flipping through channels the other day, as I tend to do, I came across a program titled “When Aliens Attack” which at the time I thought was a SyFy original movie starring Richard Greico and Tiffany. However, I was a bit taken aback when realizing it wasn’t a SyFy movie at all. It was a program on the National Geographic channel detailing a hypothetical scenario in which aliens from outer space invade our planet and describes our reaction (or retaliation) in aspects ranging from how to communicate with them and how to fight back . Without Randy Quaid and Jeff Goldblum.

I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t watch it. Not because I was too scared to acknowledge their existence because they probably do. I was actually a bit offended for a number of reasons. First off, National Geographic is a network synonymous with nature shows that delve into animal wildlife, history, and exotic cultures, serving as an education tool for people who don’t feel like reading or just give up on trying to find something interesting to watch (read:me). Yet for some reason they’ve decided to dedicate a few hours of paid advertisement and programming to “what ifs”. What if aliens did invade? How would we react? Apparently the same way those in War of the Worlds, Signs, Independence Day, Battle: Los Angeles, Mars Attacks, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and countless other sci-films did: playing with our food and one-liners, or not. Like I said I didn’t watch.  I was insulted for the Aliens sake because of the assumption that they would attack. In everything we’ve seen they come down to our fair and humble planet (remember, it’s a movie), destroy our biggest cities and enslave our people. They are the bad guys, no question about it. The same way Mexicans and Native Americans were the baddies in countless westerns (Happy Thanksgiving by the way), Aliens are now,and have always been in a sense, the go-to villians because there are no Martian Anti-Defamation Leagues out there to cause a stir and cry injustice (yet).  But once the day comes when their existence is realized we’ll have to apologize for our insensitivy and lack of education regarding their culture and eventually we’ll see a network show with a Venusian lead (ALF was from Melmac) which will be cancelled in 2 weeks.

Rest assured though, because that will never happen. If Aliens are indeed a highly intelligent life-form they won’t bother coming to Earth. And if they did in fact spark up and smoke the stickiest of the icky with the Mayans I’m sure they’ve checked up on us every now and then . And I’m pretty sure they’ve been disappointed to find that a planet with such beautiful resources and inhabitants with amazing potential has devolved to a planet struggling for ways to find renewable energy, keep oil off of our waters, people from killing each other and starving to death-the list goes on and on. That’s right, Earth has become a  John Carpenter movie set in the South Bronx in the late ’70s.

 Let’s face facts, Earth doesn’t seem to be an ideal planet to invade right now. It’s as if the Aliens that visited us centuries ago were a young, newlywed couple who were looking for a nice place to settle in. I imagine the exchange to be something like this:

Klorax: Wow, this place is really nice. Clean air, green grass…

Zrey: Yeah. And the people seem really cool. Pretty smart and able to make things on their own.

Klorax: Once I finish Laser school I’d definitely would like to come back here and see what these guys have been up to.

Zrey: That’s great. We should totally do that!

So once Klorax and Zrey pop out a few Granblidian kids and decide to come back light years later, they see what a once-promising world has turned to;

Klorax: What. The. Fuck?

Zrey: How many times have I told you to watch your language in front of the children?

Klorax: I’m sorry, it’s just…what the hell happened to this place?

Zrey: What’s that smell?

Klorax: I have no idea. What is that thing everyone’s staring at? No one’s making eye contact with each other anymore.

Zrey: I think that’s the iPhone.

Klorax: They’re just getting that now?

Zrey: I think so.  People are starving to death and no one seems to know how to put an end to it. Or care.

Klorax: Uh…you just feed them. What is there not to understand?

Zrey: I think they’re just focusing on war and killing each other.

Klorax: Seriously? Why?

Zrey: People seem to hate each other now. A lot of differences between people.

Klorax: Can’t they just get over it? Just deal with it and do what they have to do?

Zrey: Apparently not.

Klorax: This is pretty disappointing.

Zrey: We can always go to Saturn.

Klorax: And live with your mother?

That’s our best case scenario. The Aliens see what we’ve done to our planet, shake their heads, and attend marriage counseling in a galaxy far, far away. Of course they can always look at how they’ve been depicted in our filmography and just live up to stereotypes we’ve created and go nuts taking over Earth. But would it really be worth their time? The way this planet is with constant strife in and between nations, the rich getting richer while the poor unite and occupy the streets only to be ignored and pepper sprayed, common sense taking a back seat to the ramblings of those on television clamoring to be leaders (and let’s not forget monthly earthquakes and other apparent natural disasters) -would invading this planet really be a worthy investment? From a prospective buyer’s point of view this planet is the house from The Money Pit. The mother of all fixer-uppers. Unless that would be the sole reason for an invasion, to flip it and possibly sell it to Jupiter for double what it cost to invade, then it would make sense. But hopefully that’s not the case.

If Aliens do decide to pay us a visit and decide to communicate it would obviously be a life-changing event for all involved. From a little girl in Idaho to a Tuskan Raider in Tattooine it would be a momentous occasion. However what happens at that first moment of contact is what will define our potential relationship with extra-terrestrials. We would have to let them know that regardless of what they have seen, the neglect of our planet and the dark things man is capable of; in essence we are still good people. Clearly we are not in a good place now but the human spirit is something that can never be looked down upon. At our worst, good always seem to prevail and we manage to pick each other up no matter what color we are and what language we speak.

So if anybody outside of the Milky Way manages to transcribe this and actually read it, let me be the first to make amends beforehand.  For assuming that you kidnap people and sodomize them, I’m sorry. I’m sure there is a reason if you do. If not, please remember the South doesn’t speak for everyone. I also want to apologize for your portrayal as heartless monsters that destroy and take over for no apparent reason other than expanding. If you look at the history of our planet’s nations I’m sure you’ll have a lot in common with most of them if in fact that’s who you are and what you do (hoping we’re wrong on that too). I promise that if and when the time comes for our two planets to meet we will make an effort to absolve whatever inaccuricies have been portrayed on film, literature, and television . If we can agree to live peacefully and coexist that would speak volumes and prove to you that we are a kind-hearted race and have only the best intentions, though we can be misguided at times. And if you choose to help us right the wrongs we have done with this planet and find a way to do the math that can solve our debt crisis that too would be swell. We will open our hearts and minds, welcoming you all with open arms.

All of you.

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