Another landmark down

List item #287 that can now be checked off: attending a bigtime college football game.

Not that that’s a huge deal in and of itself, especially for those of you that went to a school with an athletic team. I, however, have never been a huge sports fan (excluding soccer, but even that’s more a playing thing than a viewing thing for me), and went to Montevallo, whose baseball and basketball teams saw smaller attendance than jazz band recitals and theater productions.* That, and Montevallo and UAB (where I finally got my degrees) can’t hold a candle to the size or success that a lot of schools have with their teams.

In the past, I’ve been to a few Braves games, one Cubs game, the ’96 Olympics soccer matches that were held in Birmingham, and a few semi-pro (minor leagues and USFL) hockey and football games (did you know that Birmingham, Alabama, had a long running hockey team?  Crazy, yeah?).  I don’t really feel like I’ve missed out on much, but this weekend, when presented with the opportunity to go see the Alabama/Ole Miss game, it occured to me that I shouldn’t pass up the chance.

Let me clarify up front that the primary reason I went was to hang out with one of my oldest friends (26 years and running) who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like these days.  But still, it was a major thing, different from anything I’ve ever seen.  In fact, I think I may have remarked over ten times that I have no frame of reference for anything like what I experienced yesterday – the closest would be the pre-show ritual for some of the big-name concerts I’ve attended, and really that’s not even close.

Alabama is a huge school with a tremendously strong football program, past and present.  If you’re not from Alabama (mid-state, especially), then you may not understand the emphasis that people put on college football (especially, obviously, the SEC), but it’s comparable to the fan base of big cities with hometown teams like the Yankees, the Cowboys, etc. To can these people fans, some of them, reminds you of the source of that term — fanatic. I’ve seen, over the years, relationships bonded and torn apart by football, fights and riots started by football… For someone who doesn’t live and breathe sports, who doesn’t have a connection to a specific team**, who really doesn’t like extremes, it’s an alien atmosphere.

I have a picture in my head of tailgating, and game day on campus is like that times ten, crossed with a carnival and a really weird family reunion.  I guess it’s like this at other big campuses; again, no point of reference.  And goofy me wearing his Georgia ball cap (to protect the head from sunburn, I swear).  Food stands, merchandise tables everywhere, people walking seemingly aimlessly attempting to buy or sell tickets***… You’d never know that the economy is depressed.  Tickets to the game are upwards of $50 a piece (face value), plus street fair-priced food, t-shirts, hats; it’s unreal, a step outside of the world I live in every day.  The tailgaters — actually, tent people, hanging out with their grills under mini-carports covering the quads — have brought their 50 inch plasma screens so they can watch other games as the morning passes.

And this happens every weekend for the fall.

The game itself is sort of unremarkable, as experiences go.  I’m familiar enough with football to know that Alabama will run up the score in the first half, almost lose in the second.  If football followed the periods of hockey, I suspect that the Crimson Tide would never make the top ten in the polls, because that third period would kill them every time. The fans are as irritating to me as those I attend concerts with — they’re too loud, blocking my view by standing up in front of me when the watchable moments happen, too attached to something that is peripheral to the real world.  But it’s a good enough game, and a fun time with my friend.

I add that either stadium seats need to be spaced a little wider on the bleachers, or people that weigh over 300 pounds should be required to buy an extra seat.  And if you wave those godawful pompoms they hand out, keep them the fuck out of my ears if you’re behind me, please.

I really don’t see how people can do that every weekend.  It’s too tiring.  And too expensive.  Wonder how UA can afford to pay Nick Saban four million dollars a year? Multiplying ticket cost by attendance and then adding in merch and TV revenues, and you realize pretty quickly: they’ve gotten quite the bargain.

Next up: the Grand Canyon, or hang-gliding.  At least those won’t be as loud.

* Probably not true, but having never gone to a game at UM, I can only speculate.

** When I was a kid, I thought my dad had gotten his undergrad from Georgia, since he was from Atlanta.  Turns out he went to Emory, and (ironically) got his Masters at Georgia Tech.  Oops.  Still, the red and black thing sticks with me.

*** Want to recover from the stock market crash?  Buy Alabama home game tickets in pairs, then show up on campus on game day.  Name your price.  Drive home and eat steak. Holy Christ, scalpers at concerts don’t have a clue!

Short Movie Review: Iron Man

IRON MAN — it’s a tie between Chris Nolan’s first Batman movie and this for best comic book movie to date. Seriously brilliant fun for fans and newbies alike.

Robert Downey: never a better casting choice ever, except maybe Michael Caine as Alfred. Tony Stark seemed to me to be a character that no one could pull-off, because he walks a fine line between charming billionaire playboy and total douchebag (even prior to the recent Civil War character changes).  Downey has the perfect take, though, and you can’t help but like him.

The writing and Downey and Gwenyth Paltrow make for possibly the best ever onscreen super-hero romance. Not too much, not too little.

The movie itself: nothing short of brilliant.  Tons of tiny things for comic nerds like me to notice, excellent effects, and a perfect mix of real-world and pop-art fantasy.  Spot-on music choices.  If this is a sign of the increase in quality we’ll be seeing now that Marvel has more control over their movies, then the future looks good.

If there’s one complaint I have, it’s that I kept waiting for Obidiah Stane to fix himself a White Russian.  But maybe I’ve just watched The Big Liebowski too many times.

Oh, and a hint — stick around after the credits.  Wait it out — it’s so beyond worth it.

Today’s round-up of amusements

Wacky Indians (with potential for a good drinking game):

What could distract you from the size of Christina Ricci’s forehead?

Her eyes! Oh, God, her eyes!

Remote controlled cars + Nintendo nostalgia + WAAAAAY too much time on their hands:

For Cyn:

Kittens-Coca Cola Box

And lastly, bestly: Bill O’Reilly is now lobbing softballs for Keith Olbermann. Proof? He claims that “We didn’t invade Iraq.” (via Digg)

Everyone should read this

Armageddon in Retrospect (Feel free to skip this review, if you like, and jump straight to the book. The title of this post refers to the latter; this once, I won’t be hurt.)

There’s a magic in Vonnegut’s writing that I’ve never found in any other. I’ve found many an author that can take me in, that can transport me and move me, but no other can touch my (cliche? why not?) soul like the late KVJ. Walking away from a reading of some of his books leaves that same ethereal, other-worldly, drugged feeling that I go coming out of my first theatrical viewings of The Matrix and Memento. Sure, I’ve got plenty of movies that I’ve loved in my life, but so very few that profoundly affected me on a core for which I have no words.

There were a few of his books — like Cat’s Cradle, maybe, or a few of the shorts in Welcome to the Monkey House — that, as wonderful as they were, didn’t hit me any harder than my other favorites (Palahniuk, McCammon, King), but at the top of his game, Vonnegut is king, and the posthumous Armageddon in Retrospect is a fitting memorial landmark for his kingdom.

Before reading the short fiction and essays collected in Armageddon, it’s best to have read Slaughterhouse Five, his absurdist novel memoir of his experience as a POW who survived the Allied firebombing of Dresden, Germany in 1945. The two work wonderfully together to show, both through the words and the tone, the effects and the horror of war. None of this comes across as preachy, though it definitely has a distinct point of view.

After reading Armageddon, it seems a lot clearer to me why so many politicians who have never seen combat (or served in anything more dangerous than a Guard reserve unit) have no reservations about sending people into war for any reason other than absolute necessity. I think that if more people in positions of power had seen and experienced anything even remotely close to what obviously shaped so much of Vonnegut’s life, then a number of conflicts (such as we are currently engaged in in Iraq, for instance) would never have happened, and uncountable decisions in the course of wars might be a little better considered.

Timequake Perhaps those sitting in higher places should be forced to read and memorize both Armageddon in Retrospect and Slaughterhouse Five, as well as the tragically overlooked and underrated Timequake (in which the entire world is forced to relive ten years in realtime, both successes and tragedies). Maybe then they’d be more careful (and not to imply that all wars are based on cavalier decisions, though I’m certain that there are a few of those) about considering the costs of their goals, and whether the two balance in the end.

But probably not, because there are other things at stake besides regret and understanding atrocity, like oil rights and the wants of their cronies.

So it goes.

Rest well, Kurt, and know that you made a mark on at least one of us.

I Think Too Big(ly)

So, April Fool’s Day.  I wanted so badly to do so many things today, but I just can’t bring myself to do them, either for the effort required on my part or for the effort required for clean-up. For instance, I thought about doing something to the site (the one you’re reading now), but I sincerely don’t have the time.  Then I thought about the bar — the easy thing would be to shuffle all the beer lines so no one got quite what they wanted, but what a mess that would make.  Then there’s the idea of replacing all the liquor with water and sweet tea, but again, a mess — our clientele is mob-like enough as it is sometimes.

The best idea I’ve had in a while was replacing the padlock on the front gates with one of my own, and posting a notice (from either the IRS or the health department — either one would be totally believable) about how we had been shut down for contamination or back-taxes or somesuch.  But then I remembered that I’d have to sit by gate so no alarmed phone calls were made to anyone who might realize that, yeah, they had meant to padlock our gates, but someone never got around to it.

So I skipped it again this year.

Or did I?


On a related note, if only this were part of a bigger prank, I would be a happyhappy man. (Full artist’s post here).

The End of an Era

Tonight, Ric Flair retired from wrestling with one last bout, after nearly forty years of wrestling.

Laugh if you want — that I care, that I even know — but wrestling was something I enjoyed for a long, long time — thirty-three years or so. I haven’t watched it in about three years, since I gave up cable TV, but I’ve checked in on the sites across the Net and tangentially followed a storyline here and there.
Continue reading

There’s One in Every Crowd. Sometimes, a Whole Bunch.

Cynthia’s a bellydancer (and infinitely better — inherently so, from what I’ve seen — than she’ll ever let on). This makes all the guys at the bar delirious with envy, of course, because everyone knows that bellydancers are incredibly hot (true, at least for my wife, one of her friends, and two of the women in the instructional DVDs she owns), flexible (also true), and open to trying new and crazy things (not anymore true than for any other group, sadly).

What the guys don’t realize is that you have to listen to your bellydancing wife practice her zills. Continue reading

If only I cared about the movie itself…

I don’t. Really. But the design on this teaser poster really jumped out at me:

X-Files sequel teaser image

Sure, I’m looking forward to seeing Gillian Anderson as Scully again, and hopefully they’ll bring back some of the quirky behavior to Mulder’s character that made the show worth watching in the first seven seasons (remember the Stephen King penned ceiling full of pencils?). But I refuse to get excited about movies anymore. If only they were more like this poster: simple, sleek, elegant, a little clever, and a whole lot intriguing.

I suppose when you’re making entertainment for the masses, though, it’s better to go for the in-your-face approach with lots of mindless violence and some big breasts thrown about for good measure.

Found writings

I Can See Your House From Here

Friends, Romans, countrymen – lend me your ears. I seem to have damaged mine.

In spite of all the naysayers in the artistic community, Birmingham is no different than the rest of the nation. Which is to say, it’s a completely different microcosm: the religious element is stronger, the politics trend toward the conservative, the cost of living is lower, the humidity off the charts. But all in all, Birmingham is the same as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles: we follow some trends, we ignore others, and once in a blue moon, we inspire a few here and there.

Sure, there are no major music labels based here, no well-funded Hollywood-style studios, no empires of artistic production. Those things are secondary to the creative world, though; without the works of the artist, labels and studios and publishers have no raison d’etre. The Atlantics and Sonys and Putnams of the world are businessmen, channeling finance from art. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; those of us who create could certainly use a little more finance in our lives. But to point to the lack of artistic business world in Birmingham as a major weakness belittles the true source of creativity.

Argue the individual importances all you like, but the Magic City has been home to many a nationally recognized entertainment figure. We’ve got musicians (Verbena, Cleve Eaton, Emmylou Harris), writers (Robert McCammon, Dennis Covington, Margaret Walker), actors (Courtney Cox and Kate Jackson). We’re to blame for the area code shirts that everyone wore for a year. Without us, there might be no Alan Hunter, and where would that leave MTV?

Two words: Alan Curry.

If there is a separation between Birmingham and other cities, it might be the support system for creativity. But there, again, I wager that we balance out, looking from a distance like any other city or town in the nation. The audiences are larger at Star Wars than Crash, J. K. Rowland outsells Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and television is viewed more than all the theater and gallery exhibits together. While the products aimed at the masses will always draw more people than the art that challenges and stimulates, there is still an audience for even the most obscure. Theater productions, art house films, and the collected works of William Burroughs have their fans here, and will continue to do so. Complaining about the small size of your audience as a creator is to ignore the desire for easy digestion by the majority of the world (or your own lack of talent – but easier to blame it on the city, right?).

No, we’re not as influential on the national trends as Los Angeles or New York, but then, we’re not as large. For our size, though, I suspect that we have more than our fair share of impact, just as we are shaped by the endeavors of artists from San Francisco, Miami, Boston, or Austin. And just like those landscapes, ours is filled with hidden treasures, pockets of brilliant riches waiting to be discovered, if only by the few who can divine their beauty.

The American Heritage dictionary defines creative as such: “Characterized by originality and expressiveness; imaginative.” This means two things: we can take Britney Spears off my list of topics to cover, and I can add a lot of areas that people tend to ignore when thinking of creativity. Of course the area encapsulates music, filmmaking, theater, writing, dance, and the rest of the cultural arts, but it’s wrong to forget things like architecture, web design, and advertising – ventures that step outside of entertainment, but benefit from a unique and imaginative approach.

And so, Birmingham, I challenge you: look around and find the creativity that surrounds you every day. Recognize the originality that exists in and is inspired by the city. Note how it is influenced by the rest of the world, and how the rest of the world is influenced by it.

Written 15 May 2005, and promptly forgotten. Oops. I think this was my pitch to the Birmingham Weekly editor for a resurrection of I Can See Your House From Here, a weekly column I wrote for in 2002.

I should really get off my ass and write more.