Closing the Loop

fnlI don’t know why I did it. Several years ago, I started to watch Friday Night Lights on Netflix. I wanted to understand the inside jokes I heard from family and pop culture. I wanted to feel the power of Coach Taylor. I wanted to see every football game come down to the final play.

So I watched episode after episode, usually during my lunch break at work. I needed a while, but I finally got through all five seasons.


For some reason, I stopped right before the final episode. The decision made sense in my mind at the time. I wanted to truly savor my final days in Dillon, Texas. That meant watching the episode at home instead of at work.

The problem is, I never made time to watch the episode at home. At some point, I started to rationalize that if I never watched the episode, the show had never ended. Then I got lazy and just didn’t feel like going back and watching it.

I finally bit the bullet last week. I really hate myself for taking so long. The silly nature of the final game’s ending was as cheesy as I had hoped. The drama around the proposal cracked me up. The philosophy of Tim Riggins could have come in handy a long time ago. I loved every second of it.

Now that I have finally gotten around to finishing a show which went off the air in 2011, maybe I can start planning a schedule to finish Mad Men. I think I only have three seasons left.

Part of the Club

I love The Breakfast Club. The movie came out during my junior year of high school. I was a wrestler (and can dissect the strengths and weaknesses of the portrayal of a high school wrestler ad infinitum). I could identify in different ways with the other characters. The theme song was the theme of my girlfriend’s prom that year (a girlfriend who dumped me a few months later). Like so many people, it spoke to me.

That’s why I could not wait to see a 30th anniversary screening in York, Pa., last night with a Q&A following the film with Molly Ringwald.

Yeah, that Molly Ringwald. In the same room as me. Talking about one of my favorite movies. This is how I felt pretty much all day leading up to the event.

We had not sprung for the VIP package which included a meet and greet with Ringwald. But that didn’t really matter to me. She would come on stage after the screening and tell stories about the film, most of which I probably already knew. But that didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that I had a chance to see how much something that mattered to me mattered to other people, including one of the central figures involved in that thing.

Make no mistake – this is no faded star cashing in on a past success. Ringwald seems like as much of a fan of the movie as anyone else. She has a pre-teen daughter so knows the way the film can impact those dealing with the same kinds of issues that The Breakfast Club faced. She came across as completely genuine in her admiration for the power the movie holds over people like me.

I thought the event could have been tightened up a little. The comedian who served as the host took a while to get to the audience questions, instead slowly peppering Ringwald with questions about her career and other life in general. Some of the answers were interesting, but people came to hear Molly Ringwald answer their questions. That part of the night did not disappoint.

This tour with The Breakfast Club ends this week. I feel good that I got a chance to see it. Maybe even enough to dance like I’m 16 again.


You Get a Trophy! You Get a Trophy! You Get a Trophy!

I tried to resist, but I had want to weigh in with an alternate view on the kerfuffle about participation trophies for young athletes, sparked by NFL player James Harrison taking these kinds of trophies away from his 8 and 6-year-old sons because they didn’t “earn” them.

So if you are predisposed to dislike the practice, don’t think of them as participation trophies.

Think of them as “I put up with Mom and Dad video taping my every move and screaming at me even though I am really trying as hard as I can” trophies.

Or “I play this sport year round because they tell me it will make me a better player even though I haven’t even lost all my baby teeth yet” awards.

Or “I’d rather be doing something else, but Dad signed me up for this even though I said I didn’t want to do it” awards.

In an era when so many parents – myself included – shower the latest technologies on our kids and work to provide them every advantage we can get, is a trophy really the one thing that will let them think that life might not be a struggle at times? Some parents outfit their kids for instructional leagues with the latest and greatest equipment and record every at bat, goal or foul shot, but a trophy causes disillusionment? A trophy that was conceived by adults?

This trend did not come from a referendum of 8-year-olds. Second graders did not rise up and demand athletic socialism. Adults came up with this idea. So the solution is for a millionaire to yank trophies away from his kids, tell them they don’t deserve them and shame anyone else who thinks that a piece of plastic isn’t that big of a deal?

Many kids can’t remember to do a chore you told them to do 90 seconds ago, so I don’t see how a participation trophy will send them on some lifelong philosophical journey that will have them questioning the meaning of life because they finished in last place in a tournament and still got an award when they were 7.

I might have a skewed perspective on this, however, because I officiate youth wrestling in the winter. But when I regularly see kids in tears before they even begin to compete, I don’t know if we should be worrying about a trophy at the end. We should be taking stock of the entire youth sports enterprise and how parents approach it.

Youth sports can bring about so many benefits. Losing gracefully and applying the lessons from a negative experience can really benefit youngsters. But that comes from calm conversation which teaches perspective, not parents arguing over who deserves a trophy.

Just make sure that before and after they get their grubby paws on that trophy that they have actually learned something else and that you and/or the coaches have helped them gain incremental improvement in the skills of the sport.

If your kid gets something you don’t think they really earned, don’t take it away. Sit down with them and talk with them about the experience. Find out what they liked and didn’t like. Put some context around the trophy. Let the kid enjoy it for one simple reason.

They’re a kid and sometimes it’s nice to get something shiny. If you don’t think they deserve it, take away the iPad, not the trophy.


A Fable Worth Re-Telling

Thirty years ago, R.E.M. released Fables of the Reconstruction. The album has taken almost mythic qualities among the band’s canon over time, mainly because no discussion can avoid the problems the band had during the recording process.

In short, they were stuck in England where the weather was horrible and producer Joe Boyd pushed them in ways that they had never been pushed before. While the band has often talked about the difficult time they had making the album, it may have been the most important point of their career. The songs on Fables are either classics or underappreciated gems. After the album and subsequent tour, the band took a different tack and recorded their next album in Indiana with Don Gehman.

That produced Life’s Rich Pageant, my pick for their best-ever work, and they never looked back.

But we’re here to talk about Fables, which starts with “Feeling Gravity’s Pull,” a song which lets you know that it may not be an easy road ahead. That turns into “Maps and Legends,” which turns into the iconic “Drive 8,” making you understand that the guys that threw together Reckoning in just a few weeks had grown up into something special.

Fables has layers upon layers of greatness, the coyness of “Green Grown the Rushes” mixed with the haunting images from “Wendell Gee” and the bouncy goofiness of “Can’t Get There From Here.”

But the song that follows “Driver 8” on the first side of the record is the one that always stays with me. “Life and How to Live It” represents the greatness that R.E.M. started to achieve for many reasons.

  • The guitar line has the sound of something powerful, but is, in reality, pretty simple. I can even play a rudimentary version of it
  • The story behind the song is classic Michael Stipe – take a nugget of a weird story and turn it into something complex, yet catchy. He tells some of it on a live version of the song from 1987, but this Flickr page covers it pretty well.
  • The live version makes you realize the power of the band in concert. They have played it twice at shows I have attended. The first one, in Pittsburgh in 1989, escapes me. The second time came at the beginning of the encore at the Patriot Center in 2003 on their “Best Of” tour. It blew me away. Looking back at old clips, the song has always had this power. The first clip below is from 1985, the second from that 2003 tour (this time in Madrid). Sit back and enjoy.

Goodbye, Gulfhaven

I will lose a friend tonight. Actually a bunch of friends as Cougar Town broadcasts its last episode.

Cougar-Town-saying-hello-to-Traviss-new-gfriendGo ahead and make fun. I have heard all the jokes. The ones about the bad name. The ones about the quality of the show. The ones about pretty much anything that ignores the fact that the show lasted six seasons, an eternity in today’s television landscape.

I fell in love with the show manly because of my man crush on co-creator Bill Lawrence. He hooked me with Scrubs, so I was an easy mark when Cougar Town came along. I love the way they turned away from the original premise of an older woman dating younger guys to a show about friends who have a special bond.

I’m the kind of fan who makes sure to read the joke about the name of the show on the title card each week. I look at the episode title to see if it references a Tom Petty song I know. I was among the fools who called 1-800-PENNYCAN to talk to cast members (I chatted with Ian Gomez and Brian Van Holt).

Sure, it moved to TBS a few years ago when ABC cut bait, but that paved the way in a sense for other shows to debut on cable stations. The show has maintained a high profile on the cable network even if the total number of viewers pales in comparison to the numbers on ABC. Like it or not, they made more than 50 hours of the show. That’s pretty awesome for a show which caught so much flak for little more than its title.

At a certain point, Cougar Town ceased trying to meet the needs of a mass audience and turned into a way for the writers and actors to entertain themselves and the hardcore fans. Counting myself in that second group, I’m OK with that decision. Comedy is supposed to focus on fun. Lawrence, co-creator Kevin Biegel and the folks that followed them never lost sight of that.

That’s why the end makes me a little sad, in a different way than the end of Parks & Rec did. I can make Parks & Rec jokes, and all kinds of people will get them. March 31 jokes land. Treat Yo Self jokes kill. Apps and zerts never get old. But when I yell “Change approved,” fewer people get why that is funny. P&R meant more, but I can also share it with more people. This is kind of the end of the road for Cougar Town jokes.

I’m glad I went for the ride.

Bragging About Nothing

I have to admit, I used to do this. I still might do it on occasion, but I try to avoid this particular annoyance as much as possible these days. Partially because I realize it doesn’t matter, but mostly because I have realized how stupid it sounds.

People have to stop bragging about not doing things.

I’m not talking about the not doing things that I admire, like spending a whole day on your couch in sweats watching TV for no good reason. That is admirable and should be shared with the world. I’m talking about the kind of not doing things that annoying sports business writer Darren Rovell tweeted about over the weekend.

This one got me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I love March Madness and fill out brackets like they are going out of style. I have done this forever so the fact that not filling out a bracket is some sort of badge of honor just makes me roll my eyes. Second, it was from Rovell, who is a twit.

But this isn’t just about March Madness brackets. We see it with any cultural phenomenon. People like to brag that they don’t care about the Super Bowl or Super Bowl commercials or the Oscars (I have been guilty of that) or pretty much any sports or pop culture event that brings people together.

I like some of those things and don’t like others, but why should I or anyone else feel compelled to puff our chest out when we aren’t interested in something a lot of other people like? Twitter and Facebook, that’s why.

I love social networks like those, but that’s pretty much the whole reason for this. People who love these events talk about them a lot, and those who are not included feel like they need to join the conversation if only to say they don’t want to join the conversation. It’s the ultimate “look at me move.”

Which is why the ultimate “look at me” guy Darren Rovell was the one that kind of set me over the edge. As I said, I am sure I have done this, usually with the Oscars and Grammys. I think I have learned my lesson. If you want credit for not doing something, you’re probably the kind of guy people don’t want joining them while they enjoy their favorite things. So just shut up.

The Rest of The Brians

I was supposed to post these last week, but forgot. I wrote it and had it saved, but totally forgot to post because I was headed to Vegas. So here you do – the “minor” awards for The Brians which are actually more fun than the real thing.

The Dorian Gray Award: Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything. It’s no surprise that this adaptation of Stephen Hawking comes from his wife’s book because Jones does not appear to age one bit as Jane Hawking even though ALS slowly eats away at her husband. The use of soft focus as time went on just cracked me up.

Best Supporting: I gave away awards in this category for actor and actress, but I also need to recognize the big, fake boobs they gave Jane Fonda in This Is Where I Leave You. Well done.

Best Cast: No one gave Monuments Men a second thought after it quickly disappeared from the theater, but I really enjoyed the movie because they hired Bill Murray to play a Bill Murray type and John Goodman to play a John Goodman type and Bob Balaban to play a Bob Balaban type and George Clooney to play a George Clooney type and so on and so forth. It was like the World War II version of Ocean’s Eleven – just a bunch of folks who like each other having fun making a movie. Nothing wrong with that.

Best Fight: A tie between all the fights in This Is Where I Leave You.

Worst Fight: The park fight scene in Anchorman 2. Sometimes, you just need to let a scene breath and stop adding things.

Biggest Surprise: Tyler Perry in Gone Girl. He really did a nice job and made Best Supporting Actor a very crowded field.

The “Is That It?” Award: I’m not saying I wanted to see Ben Affleck’s johnson, but for all the “there’s full frontal male nudity in Gone Girl” hype I heard, it was quite disappointing to realize that no one would have likely noticed it was there if it hadn’t been advertised beforehand. Again, not looking to see his junk, but if you’re gonna do it, go full-on Jason Segal in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Best Song: As if there was any question.

The 2015 Brians

Now that we have that silliness known as The Oscars out of the way, it’s time to focus on the real awards – The Brians.

In case you don’t know, these are the awards recognizing the best in film for movies which I saw in the theater the previous year.

This is a big year for The Brians for a couple of reasons. First of all, I saw at least one movie which actually had Oscar hopes. Secondly, we are back after a hiatus in 2014 since I only saw two movies in the theater in 2013.

Seven movies have a chance to win these prestigious awards: The Lego Movie, Monuments Men, Anchorman 2, 22 Jump Street, This is Where I Leave You, Gone Girl, and The Theory of Everything.

The big five categories are awarded here. Check back here Wednesday, Feb. 25 to see the lesser (and more fun) categories and some behind-the-scenes information.

Best Supporting Actress: Jillian Bell (22 Jump Street). I didn’t know her from her “Workaholics” role, but she blew me away as Mercedes, the judgy girl who ended up running a campus-wide drug ring. Her deadpan snark was one of the keys to making this sequel work.

Best Supporting Actor: Ice Cube (22 Jump Street). Love the Cube. You need great supporting actors to make a sequel work, and his anger at finding his daughter dating Jonah Hill’s character was absolutely perfect. Will Ferrell almost got this for his work in “The Lego Movie,” but he fell just short.

Best Actress: Tina Fey (This Is Where I Leave You). I love almost everything about Jonathan Tropper’s books so the movie adaptation of one of his best works was bound to win something. I liked the film a lot more than most people, mainly because of Fey. She still lives in my heart as Liz Lemon, but her nuanced take of Wendy Altman in this goofy, inappropriate, funny movie made me smile. She even overcame the awkward way they handled the character’s difficulty dealing with her ex-boyfriend.

Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything). Part of me feels like I have to give something to the one movie I saw in 2014 which had a chance to win over the weekend. Thankfully, Eddie Redmayne put on a spectacular performance. He is lucky, however, that I didn’t see Foxcatcher and The Imitation Game until this year. That said, he brought great depth to Stephen Hawking, especially in the early parts of the movie. You could see the tics and problems coming, but they never veered into slapstick for me.

Best Movie: The Lego Movie. Since the academy won’t recognize the greatness of this film, I feel compelled to scream from the mountaintops. Who doesn’t smile when they hear the theme song? Who doesn’t identify with Emmett? Who hasn’t named a work nemesis Lord Business? The bottom line is that entertainment should be fun, and I had the most fun last year during the two hours I watched this film. In the year of Chris Pratt, it would seem wrong to not recognize something he did, and we didn’t get to Guardians of the Galaxy in the theater. Everyone should watch this movie as much as they can, especially when they are feeling down.

Because everything really is awesome.


Newsroom Memories

If you haven’t noticed already, things have really started to change in downtown Hanover. New businesses keep cropping up and great opportunities wait in the wings.

One of the most recent changes has given me mixed feelings, however. Namely, the re-location of The Evening Sun offices.

I have not worked for the paper full time since 1998. I haven’t worked full time for any paper for almost 15 years. I manage to keep my toe dipped in the water via freelancing and writing this column. I just can’t shake the profession.

Even though I find myself comfortable in many situations and love my job, I feel incredibly comfortable when I walk into a newsroom. No place gave me that safe feeling like the 135 Baltimore Street office where I worked for six years.

Don’t get me wrong – the paper had to move. But that doesn’t mean I can’t cling to every ounce of sentimentality I can muster.

The old newsroom held so many great memories. Like the time I was really mad about how the holiday scheduling worked out, and I stalked out in a huff to go get some comfort food. I returned to find a sympathetic co-worker ready to take over my duties because he thought I might not come back.

Or the time I ran circles around the desks where the editors sat as people edited two of my stories on deadline. As soon as I got 75 percent of the way through answering a question from one, the other would need me immediately. I wish I had a pedometer on me at the time.

Or the time (or times) that I left my wallet or something like that laying around and someone hid it from me to try and teach me a lesson.

Or the time I felt my heart drop when my editor showed me a paper with a headline I wrote that had a golfer winning a tournament by three shits. I sunk into the chair, trying to think about what other jobs I could get after they fired me. Instead, he told me that I owed him one because he saw the mistake before the papers left the building. He wasn’t happy (with me or the people who should have caught my error), but it did give him a chance to do the whole “STOP THE PRESSES” routine. I’m pissed I didn’t have the foresight to save a copy of that page.

Or the time when I came back to help on a freelance basis and a friend tried to give me a tutorial on a layout system. I had to remind him that I set a lot of the stuff up and taught him how to use it at one point.

Or the many times we knocked off after a hard day and went to solve the world’s problems at a local bar. Thank goodness I have always lived within walking distance of the office.

Or the time I met a pretty woman there, a special person who ended up marrying me and making every day since then pretty darn great.

So it’s pretty obvious why that place means so much to me.

I got a chance to visit the new offices a week or so ago. I really liked what they did, from the open newsroom to the conference room overlooking the 116/194 intersection.

I also like how I can drive through town and see who is working late. Some of the best times I have ever had took place when only a few of us were there late at night.

Even though they have their own space, it will always bring back memories of the place where I felt most at home.

Playing it by Ear

I have spent the past year or so planning for what is happening right now. The funny thing is, I was planning so I could do something spontaneous.

In 2010, I traveled to Los Angeles for a work event. On one night, the co-worker I traveled with had other plans, so I set out on my own. I had examined the many entertainment options and settled on one not too far from my hotel – the Upright Citizens Brigade.

UCB is one of the most influential improv comedy groups. Early members of the group included Amy Poehler. They started in Chicago, moved to New York and now have theatres on both coasts. I bought a ticket for one show at the LA theatre, which is across the street from a really creepy Scientology mansion.

So if you’re thinking “top-notch improv comedy theatre in LA,” you might get a vision of this fantastic space with comfortable seats and organic, vegan, gluten-free water bottles for sale. Not a chance. The UCB theatre is sparse and the chairs uncomfortable, but the show put one thought into my head.

“I need to do this.”

I had only just become comfortable with going on stage in a scripted performance and now I had designs on making things up on the fly? Sounded crazy, but the way the group – which included a woman who wrote for “Parks & Recreation” and will likely help write the upcoming all-female “Ghostbusters” move – made things happen on stage captivated me.

At that time, I had absolutely no clue of how to discover improv close to home. This was a problem. I don’t know how much I explored the possibility back then, but the idea remained in my head until a year or so ago.

That’s when I discovered a group in Baltimore that not only put on improv performances, but had an educational component on the side. I could take improv classes right after work. Just like Michael Scott from “The Office.” This was perfect.

Life, however, got in the way. I had trouble finding room for classes over seven straight weeks. They only offered them two nights, making scheduling a little tight. Then I ended up performing in a couple of Hanover Little Theatre shows, which took precedence.

At one point, I wondered if my subconscious wanted to keep me from taking the class. After all, some of the conflicts could be re-arranged, but that would just be hard. They will offer the class again, I told myself. There’s always next time.

Well, next time started last week. In December, I looked at my calendar and made the decision before anything else could fill the time. I paid the fee and crossed my fingers.

At the end of the first class, the only negative thought I had was that I would have to wait another whole week for the next session. I felt completely in my element. I had a chance to meet a bunch of new people who will help me figure this out over the next month and a half.

Who knows what will happen? I don’t have a plan after that, and that’s just the way it should be.

Closing the Loop

I don’t know why I did it. Several years ago, I started to watch Friday Night Lights on Netflix. I wanted to understand the inside jokes I heard from family and pop culture. I wanted to feel the power of Coach Taylor. I wanted to see every football game come down to the final play. So I watched […]

A Fable Worth Re-Telling

Thirty years ago, R.E.M. released Fables of the Reconstruction. The album has taken almost mythic qualities among the band’s canon over time, mainly because no discussion can avoid the problems the band had during the recording process. In short, they were stuck in England where the weather was horrible and producer Joe Boyd pushed them in […]

The 2015 Brians

Now that we have that silliness known as The Oscars out of the way, it’s time to focus on the real awards – The Brians. In case you don’t know, these are the awards recognizing the best in film for movies which I saw in the theater the previous year. This is a big year […]

Bragging About Nothing

I have to admit, I used to do this. I still might do it on occasion, but I try to avoid this particular annoyance as much as possible these days. Partially because I realize it doesn’t matter, but mostly because I have realized how stupid it sounds. People have to stop bragging about not doing […]