Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Real Salt Lake

We truly live in one interconnected global community. As Thomas Freidman said, the world is flat, evidenced by this small slice of iconography from Franco’s Spain brought West to the land of polygamy and prairie dresses. The MLS franchise of Salt Lake City made a considerable nod to Spain’s first division, La Liga by incorporating two aspects in their branding. From Real Madrid, they’ve swiped the name “Real” (‘royal’ in Spanish) and from Barcelona, they’ve adopted the maroon, blue and yellow motif.

As further evidence of the wildly global pull of this team, their stadium nestled in sleepy Sandy, Utah, is named after the mining conglomerate Rio Tinto, a Spanish company that is now run by a consortium of London and Melbourne based investors. Who’dathunkit?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bright Lights, Big City

Look at this picture of a 1980's Jay McInerny from last Sunday's Times book section. This essentially embodies my every fantasy of being a writer - to be that celebrant in a room full of beautiful revelers who are intoxicated with booze, drugs and an intransigent adoration of my genius.

I think I read Bright Lights Big City when I was seventeen. It was a time when I was rounding out my high school years in Tennessee while obsessively dreaming of New York City. It is a common ambition to write a book like Bright Lights. A torch is passed that started with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Boy goes to the city, boy falls in love, boy gets lost in the excess of his generation and the jungle of New York, boy somehow survives to tell his tale. F. Scott gave this experience its voice in the roaring 20's. McInerney brought us the pulse of the coke-fueled 1980's. I've tried to capture on paper what it was like to be young while living and loving in the New York of the late 90's. Of course, no text ever emerged and now the flavor of those days is lost amid the AYSO Soccer games I coach and concrete days spent (CPA) Accounting for dear life.

But if anything, the oft-maligned second-person narration of Bright Lights taught me at a young age that it was okay to break conventions when writing. It was also the first real contemporary fiction I'd read by a living author. It was important for me to read something and say - no, really -this guy's still alive just like you. maybe you can do this too. The book was of course, my brother's, and like my Lee Mazzilli baseball card, I stole it from his room while he was away at college.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mr. Sammler's Planet

I lived in Manhattan from 1994 and 2000. This was a transformative time somewhat bookended between the Giuliani take-over and 9/11. An explosion of technology and financial markets emboldened the city with massive revenue. At every turn, it seemed something old, drab and tired was being rehabilitated into something fabulous and young. To live there during this time, you could not help but to feel a sense of invincibility and triumph that we all now know to have been tragically fleeting and delusional.

I suppose it is because my New York years were spent in that bubble that I’ve developed a fascination with the books, films and photographs that documented the city in the 1970’s, arguably the most trying times in modern memory. I was a child then living in Long Island. I have fleeting snapshot memories of visiting Manhattan but mostly I recall regular trips into the boroughs to visit relatives. Still, I distinctly recall two things; the city’s sheen of graffiti, defeat and disregard as well as the conversations between my parents as we’d pass through town. It was so nice once and now it’s gone to hell.

Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet takes place in this very Manhattan. The elderly Mr. Sammler is many things a scholar, a journalist and survivor. He is a survivor in multiple ways. The story behind how this now kindly gentle older man survived the war and escaped the Nazis is unflinchingly raw. It required Sammler to transform himself into something almost animalistic and inhuman. Now he is a survivor once again, making his way through a New York that reason and morality have abandoned. Through his reminiscences of days past, his chaotic dealings with a cast of colorful relatives and the descriptions his present day concrete jungle, Mr. Stammler maintains an inner monologue that seeks to find meaning amid madness.

A note on my copy - Mr. Sammler's Planet is widely available but I lucked out with this one. This was from my local library and it had that creepy-old-forgotten-book smell. The photo at the top of this post was taken by Martha Cooper. Check out this recent article about her.

Fiction Writers Needed!

Hey there - a reminder that my other blog These Places needs submissions!

This is an independent fiction project whereby writers present a photograph of a place (no people please) and then accompany that photo with a 250-750 word text. The place in the photograph can be anywhere you choose. I've had great success snagging images from Google Earth Street Views. Again, the address is below:

Send your submissions to Slimbo3000@gmail.com.

To get your creative juices flowing, check out this beauty - you're telling me a story doesn't pop into your mind when you see this? (Just who is Big Daddy's pawn?)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New England Revolution

Real soldiers from the colonial era were maybe five foot-five and weighed, perhaps 130 pounds (after a good meal). Yet whenever the New England Revolution scores a goal, about half dozen portly men in colonial garb lumber to the edge of the pitch and fire off muskets. We have come full circle as a nation: fat versions of our ancestors now celebrating the most cherished sport of the foe we defeated for independence.

Incredibly, the New England Revolution still do not have a shirt sponsor. Thus soccer purists following Major League Soccer must endure the sight of yet another team name on the front of a shirt. Yes, thank you. We are aware of the teams playing today. Of course, the font chosen for the Revolution name is in a style that begs the words “Viva La” to precede it. Now that would be something – if they went a different way with the team identity. Imagine after a goal, Che and Fidel coming to the edge of the pitch to fire off pistols?

The Revs are owned by Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots. Patriots and Revolution: we all know the Boston area likes to consider itself the authoritative bastion of two things: colonial Americans and belligerently drunk Irish-Americans. However, these days Kraft should rename the teams ‘Medical Professionals’ or ‘Syllabus’. That’d be more regionally appropriate, I say.


at 4:53 every afternoon
I walk into the kitchen
to clean, from my mug
the cold sludge, remnants
of an afternoon beverage
that failed once again
to pierce that afternoon's boredom.

with scalding hot water
I make the blackness go away

and then I take the clean hot mug
and I hold it against the base of my skull
where the head and neck are joined
on the right side

and it feels wonderful

all of the cubicles are left to wonder
why do I walk around with a mug held against my head?
let them

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Taxes and Tea Parties

Well, tomorrow is tax day once again. I may be in the minority here, but I actually don’t mind paying taxes. In fact, I’m proud to. Way I see it, I’m proud to live in the greatest country on planet earth. Albeit, our country and its government are far from perfect, but America is the best deal out there, and dadgumit, it cost money to run a show this good.

Of course, right now Tea Party protests are being staged across the country. People who disagree with our nation’s stimulus recovery(1) efforts are now out in the streets protesting that their precious tax dollars must go towards getting our nation back on its feet. Goodness knows it’s their right to do so, and concerns over ballooning deficits are legitimate, but I suppose that when they start throwing the ‘tyranny’ word around, the wheels come off the wagon a bit.

Of course, I fully anticipate these rallies will simply morph into anti-evolution rants, or cries of ‘Barack is a secret Muslim Afro-Marxist(2)’. Let’s not forget that McCain-Palin tried the grass-roots approach with their town hall campaigning. I don’t know if you caught any of those meetings, but they all turned into one vitriolic redneck open-mike night after another. In the process, they handed Barack Obama a gift-wrapped election.

Now, let’s not forget we had plenty of left-wing wackos crying ‘tyranny’ during the Bush years. But although I sure wasn’t thrilled when my tax dollars were invisibly flushed into an avoidable war that’s irreparably damaged our international credibility… I never complained about having to pay those taxes…and was always proud to send them in.

(1) Oh, and by the way….it kinda, sorta, little-bit looks like the Stimulus is working…
(2) I get the term ‘Afro Marxist’ from Michael Savage. I’m not sure how an Afro Marxist differs from a regular Marxist. Perhaps the distinction is based purely on hairstyles. If that’s the case, I believe I’ve identified an Afro-Marxist below:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Isles of Despair

Today the New York Islanders will wrap up their unimaginably awful season against the Boston Bruins. It seems as though the team that once won four straight Stanley Cups might not be in residence in dear old Hempstead, Long Island in the years to come. Incredibly in this economy, there are actually markets out there aching for an NHL team and some claim to be able to build new arenas for them. Between the Islanders’ ineptitude and the advanced age of the Nassau Coliseum, this team may soon very well leave, a prospect that I find quite saddening.

I’m not going to kid you here, folks. When it comes down to it, I really don’t spend a lot of time thinking about hockey. It is a sport I follow out of spite. I started following the Islanders when back in the late nineties when I worked on Wall Street. Back then, I’d come to a few realizations, best illustrated in the figure below:

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Spot of Bother

This morning I had a benign splotch of keratosis burned off my back. (I know, too much information). I only bring this up as it was a similar such splotch that became George Hall’s undoing in Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother.

George’s spot ends up only being a bit of eczema yet before (and even after) he receives that diagnosis, George descends a spiral of panic, depression and hopelessness. It doesn’t help that his wife is having an affair with his best friend, his daughter is marrying a man he doesn’t care for and he’s still having trouble accepting his son’s homosexuality.

A Spot of Bother is set in modern suburban England, which is not too unlike its American counterpart in the realm of self-absorption and dysfunction. However, the British sense of propriety and their need to portray emotional stability amid madness, layers a great air of comedy to this story. The British obsession with class is also seen in George’s hesitancy with his prospective son-in-law, a competent respectable carpenter unfortunately deemed a class beneath by his fiancĂ©e’s family.

I read A Spot of Bother last summer while we were staying with my in-laws in the British Midlands. We were staying in a small village outside Solihull, a quaint and quiet setting, perfect for taking in this story.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

You got your ears on?

I saw this ad in an old 1975 Sports Illustrated and it rekindled my bewilderment at 1970’s America’s fascination with the CB, citizens band radio.

On several occasions, my brother and I have pondered at great length, why 1970’s America was so enamored of the CB Radio?

For some indiscernible reason, everyday Americans living in populated, suburban areas felt the need to have a CB radio in their enormous cars. As a child, I could remember these in the cars that belonged to my friends’ parents. These people were middle class accountants, housewives, office professionals. Why the CB? Who did they need to talk to? They were never in roadside trouble. These people never ventured far from home. What the hell?

On one hand, CB’s were like an early internet chat room. It provided a medium wherein one could anonymously ask the age-old question: is there anybody out there?

But communication was perhaps, less of a motivating factor. It was my brother who eventually loosely concluded that in this decade’s renowned malaise brought about the success of the CB. There existed a budding anti-government sentiment, a dulled, harmless hangover from the anti-establishment radical sixties. The crisis of confidence among the general public made every man a relaxed renegade, a lone wolf with a handle…even though he might be undertaking an urbane ritual like hitting the drive through liquor store on his way back from the hardware store.

The pop culture heroes of our era have become magnanimous, gorgeous superhuman television doctors or crime scene investigators. We worship talk show hosts who boast their own magazines. We are enamored of alleged experts casting judgment – acerbic American Idol judges or supernannies. When overpaid CEO’s who’ve had every opportunity handed to them on a platter retire, we run out to buy their autobiographical Rosetta-stone success story. Please, Christ Jesus, just send us someone to tell us everything that is wrong with us and everything that is untouchably amazing about them.

Not so in 1975. An absence of direction and an absence of American hubris led to a bizarre glorification of laid-back redneck culture. Although there was still a counter-cultural undertow left over from the 1960’s, subversion had become supplanted by folksy easygoin’ individualism.

Of course, we all know that this laid-back slack-jack anti-government vibe would metastasize into Reagan’s America and later adopt the dangerous rhetoric of Gingrich – government is your enemy. But maybe, just maybe, as Joe Lawnmower was busting 35mph heading down Elm Street, he could cradle that CB in his hand and feel untouchable.

Ideas for my ‘handle’ (should I decide to install a CB radio in my 4 cylinder Mazda).

1. Commutin’ Fever
2. Blazin’ Middle Management Mal-aizin’
3. Beige Accountin’ Lightnin’
4. Dick Milhous-a-nixon

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

San Jose Earthquakes

At what point do we decide that a natural disaster is a good thing commemorate with a sports franchise? I would have thought after Hurricane Katrina that the University of Miami and the NHL franchise from Carolina would have opted for a name change. I was wrong. Merchandising 1, Humanity 0.

Today, hundreds of people are dead in Italy from an earthquake. Thousands upon thousands are now homeless. Contemplating the loss these people are enduring, it’s actually difficult to write about the usual trivial things I dwell upon. But tragedy has an enduring ability to highlight the asinine.

I am aware that there has been (from NASL days) a San Jose Earthquakes team almost as long as there has been a Slimbo. It’s just that if a Slimbo were a thing that caused widespread destruction and immeasurable misery, I’d change my damn name. That’s all.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I'm just saying...

Now, I’m not saying that these two things are related…but a few months after I received the above letter from the office of Dick Cheney, our family went to the airport to visit my in-laws in Hawaii. The airline wouldn’t give my four-year old son a boarding pass because he’d been placed on the federal no-fly list. Prior to this, he must have taken at least ten airplane trips without incident.

Now I’m not saying that there’s any direct correlation…I’m just saying…

Red Bull New York

Red Bull New York became Red Bull New York after the beverage company of the same name bought the NY/NJ Metrostars franchise in 2006. In doing so, Red Bull New York became the sister club of Red Bull Salzburg (Austria). Their badge and uniforms are identical with the lone exception of the city name. The concept of corporate sponsorship on soccer jerseys is fundamental in Europe, however this is new and uncomfortable in America.

So if the concept of a corporate logo on a uniform is alien, imagine the concept of naming the team after a beverage? When Saturday Comes called this “the worst marketing idea in the history of American sports”. I’m pretty sure that assessment is a bit harsh as the NY/NJ Metrostars were an awful club whose lack of success and charisma whilst in America’s largest sports market is a huge reason soccer has struggled in America. At least the Cosmos had Pele, Beckenbauer and Chinaglia.

I can’t really root for RBNY though I know I should. They’re my local team…I guess. For a brief spat of time I played center fullback in local pickup games that featured a handful of guys from RBNY’s practice squads. Those were brutal games and I suppose when I see this logo, I’m reminded of the umpteen times their six-foot-two striker ran me down like Texas road kill. Their logo also reminds me uncomfortably of the Red Bull beverage which I’ve historically only ingested while trying to get really drunk or trying to recover from being really drunk.