Monday, February 27, 2006

Tales From the Archive: Dubs of the D'Ubervilles

Fairly uneventful week overall. Watched Eurotrip (hilarious), played 6 hours of Halo, finally finished the sword brandy, and began training my fellow barbershop quartet members (a process that will either result in three better singers or three less friends). So to offer something for all you devoted fans, a tale from the past (as part of the continuing "Tales From the Archives" feature of the NU Alum blogs).

My senior year at Northwestern, I was friends with a lot of uppity sophmores, including the one who would later earn the moniker Uber260. Now, 260 hailed from a small town in middle Illinois, which we called Uberville, for obvious reasons. Since the inception of our communal friendship, the mythos of Uberville had slowly grown, to the point where we imagined it as an Arcadian paradise where everything was, in fact, uber, and where a group of misfit drunks from the big city could have many and varied hijinks. We repeatedly planned to go to Uberville and revel in our own idiocy, maybe burning the town to the ground and salting the earth to mark our passing. Eventually we did plan an actual trip, but due to the lameness of our cohorts, only Quantum, Uber260, and myself ended up going. (This was just the first trip to Uberville. Later our band of drunks would take the town by storm in a bacchanal of unprecedented proportion. As this was after I had left, hopefully one of my comrades will offer that tale as a complement to this one.)

For reference, Uberville is a small little hamlet near Starved Rock State Park, in middle Illinois. Coincidentally, Starved Rock is where the Red Headed Stepchild was born and raised, as her father was a park ranger, or warden, or whatever parks have. His duties remain somewhat unclear, but we Madisonians assume he fought bears with his hands and hunted the nearby townspeople for sport. Which means there's a very real chance some of Uber260's kin were slain by this admirable madman. But I digress.

After an arduous journey, we three arrived at the outskirts of Uberville, stopping to luncheon at the nearby Steak 'n' Shake. This was Quantum's first time at that prestigious establishment, and he with his fancy New York ways disdained it as mediocre, not yet realizing the brilliance of a place open 24 hours serving burgers. (This opinion would later change after many many late night forays once an outpost opened in Evanston itself.) Afterward, we attended the local Uberville Walmart to soak up some local culture, then hit the town itself like a thunderbolt.

Our first stop was at the local high school, where the Uberville Bruins football team was in a playoff game against some other local footballery institution. 260's younger brother played on the team, so we dropped by to observe. Upon arriving at the field, we witnessed a somewhat unusual spectacle, in that two children had thrown a nerf ball up into a tree and could not get it down, as they were short and the tree in fact was not. Espying a nearby metal pole on the ground, I deftly knocked the ball out of the tree and returned it to the young scamps, earning 260's praise in that I was probably the first person in that town to ever think outside the box. Pleased with my slick, big-city ways, I checked back every so often to observe the two children, only to gaze on in confusion as they continued to throw the ball back at the tree in an attempt to re-stick it. It was then I realized the true subtlety of Uberville, for it was no mere town, but rather a testing place for heroes and drunkards. This ordeal with the ball and the pole was, I realized, akin to the riddle of the Sphinx, a challenge for unwary travellers, folks who must prove their worth before Uberville accepted them. Armed with this new knowledge, like Odysseus and Achilles, Quantum and I set forth into the game itself.

Glad we were for this early challenge, as it quickly set the tone for the rest of the day, where the town would repeatedly try to kill us. It began with the water, for the town was apparently near an industrial center or pollutant or something, which rendered the local water unpotable to outsiders (260 of course drank it like, well, like water). Quantum and I both got sodas from the local concession stand, but sadly they were not cans, and thus were mingled with the local brew. Like acid eating away all it touches, that soda assailed my throat. Luckily, a strict regiment of hard alcohol had already killed most of those nerve clusters, so we passed that ordeal (though I still don't believe I ever recovered full use of my tastebuds).

We proceeded to watch the game, where the Bruins trounced their adversaries, despite their total lack of a passing game. Uber260 moved to chat with his family, while Quantum and I heckled the refs, cheered the Bruins, and constantly encouraged them to pass the ball rather than run it every play. Quantum, in his idiom, attempted to utilize his fabulous wealth to obtain favors of a lascivious nature from the local youth, propositioning cheerleaders with the somewhat ambigous comment, "Hey baby, wanna make five bucks?" Luckily, none of them actually seemed to hear him, and there was no shotgun wedding performed with Quantum as a reluctant groom to some farmgirl.

The rest of the day progressed with various interludes, as we visited Uber260's homestead, his parents' video store (and its fabulous porn collection), saw the multiple bars in the town (with the water as bad as it was, I'm not surprised they need that many bars. They must be like Red Cross stations), and learned that his small town has one of the highest murder rates in Illinois. Ah, Et in Arcadia ego! We then retired to a local chicken establishment to sup with Uber's family, a place called Rip's, where Quantum and I would face the next ordeal, that of the fried. Now, Rip's is a quality establishment, where the beer flows freely and the smell of frying food saturates the air. Sadly, we were with family, not our drunken cohorts, so we couldn't really enjoy the low-priced pitchers to their full extent, but we did glut ourselves on fried chicken and fried. Fried what, we don't know, as it was yet another mysterious attempt to kill us. For at Rip's, a side dish they offer is a basket of fried batter, just little bits of it, as if they had scraped it off a chicken, with a side of pickles used to scoop up the fried and eat it by the handful. (Captain Americanist, familiar with this establishment himself, tells me they are actually called "crumblins," but Quantum coined the term "the fried," and I cling to the old ways.) Again, such fare may have been enough to kill lesser men, but Quantum and I had also trained in the deadly fried-food arts, utilizing their unique poisons to repeatedly combat the poisons of alcohol. Again, we were more than a match for the deadly ways of Uberville.

Finally, with night approaching, we retired to Uber260's grandparents' farm, where we congratulated his brother (and informed him about our plans for their passing game). During that final stop, 260 showed us the creek/island where he planned his yearly "Hobbit Fest" (mockery ensued), we faced down the spectre of the "doglike creatures" that apparently killed the local animals (we never actually saw any, but, like any good city folk, Quantum and I were terrified by the possibility of the unchecked wilderness of a farm), and I beat up 260's obnoxious youngest brother. Yes, he was only about 10, while I was 21, but he was provoking me. And he just kept coming. So I stand by my decision. I think I made him cry, and I felt like a big man.

But like any epic journey, our trip had to come to an end, and we returned to Evanston full of ourselves and our victories over small-town life (I believe Quantum even took back some of the fried as evidence of the veracity of our tale). As I've said, our tale involved hilarity but no drunkenness (sadly), thus making it a somewhat unusual archive tale. Have no fear, though, as the next chapter of the story involves a band of drunken Shakespearian actors descending upon the town and drinking it dry. Hopefully Bourbon will eventually regale his readership with that tale, so keep an eye out for updates. And if you ever find yourself in Uberville, be wary, as a city person has little chance of survival against its slick, small-town ways. And watch out for the doglike creatures. I still hear their howls in my sleep, and I wonder if I ever will be truly safe again.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Chapter MMIX: In Which I Prove I Am A Nerd

I was watching Revenge of the Sith not too long ago, and I noticed something odd. Remember the shuttle that Darth Vader flew in during Return of the Jedi, the same make that Han, Leia, and Luke flew to assault Endor? It had three fins, big, triangular fins, one on top, and two on the side that folded down in flight. (The technical name is a Lambda-class shuttle. Yes, I'm a nerd.)

Anyway, in RotS we see the Old Republic version of that shuttle. Looks almost exactly the same, except without the top fin. Which means that, in the span between Sith and Jedi, the designers just woke up one day and said "Wouldn't it be cool if we put a big freakin' fin on top of our shuttle? I mean, it's got those other two, why not one more, for symmetry's sake? I bet the Emperor would really dig it, maybe give us a raise!" One can only hope that Palpatine implemented their design then slaughtered them ruthlessly for wasting the Empire's valuable money on a useless third fin. (Looking at this now, I see disturbing parallels between Imperial designs and the American auto industry in the 60s. Odd, that.)

Sorry I don't have anything more exciting to post. Been a relaxing weekend, apart from the near-frostbite experience I had walking to a party (flask of Jameson's kept away the cold nicely though). For now, check out this site, which the Red-Headed Stepchild referred me to. I keep expecting to see the drunken ramblings of Bourbon, Quantum, Hubris, Uber260, Brownsox, and Sketchrock there. Come on guys, don't let me down!

Oh, and Hubris, your death threats are meaningless, as everyone knows Madison is an impregnable fortress-land and the walls of my ivory tower are very high (not to mention my army of apathetic freshmen who would just as soon skip my class as defend me from a drunkard).

Monday, February 13, 2006

You Are....My Fire

Philip Seymour Hoffman's character in Almost Famous, Lester Bangs, has a great line (well, many great lines, but one appropriate to my subject). He says "Jim Morrison is a drunken buffoon posing as a poet. Give me the Guess Who. They have the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic." The validity of this criticism notwithstanding, I find the sentiment behind it very telling, for it resonates with a song I just listened to on my internet radio (the previously mentioned purveyor of Falco's "Rock Me, Amadeus.").

That song, as you can tell by the title of the post, was "I Want It That Way" by The Backstreet Boys.

Now, when this song came out, I, like any sensible person, loathed it. I joined the throng decrying that it was pointless boyband tripe. And we of that throng were right, no bones about it. It's massively overproduced, and the lyrics make no sense (what way? Why can you want it that way when she shouldn't?) And yet, listening back now, I can't help but smiling and enjoying this piece of vacuous songliness. I think it achieves poetry exactly because it is so pointless. In one sense, the B-Boys were willing to be buffoons for this song, as Hoffman states. (Seriously, watch the video if you can find it somewhere. It's absolutely ludicrous, and they have to know it.)

But, in a larger sense, it shows how America as a whole was willing to be fools and send this song to the top of the charts. There were mass audiences willing to absolutely turn their minds off and appreciate the sentiment of these five non-threatening youths from the back streets, to the point where it absolutely saturated the mainstream culture (or at least the mainstream youth culture). I would contend that this brief epoch constituted a point of ultimate buffoonery on the part of America, which thus allows us (or, at least me) to look back and see this inanity as a moment of pure poetry. Maybe that's why we really appreciate all those stupid songs that no self-respecting critic would like only later in life (I say as "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" comes on my radio). The songs may or may not be fun, silly, pointless, whatever. But they are testiment to our poetry of idiocy and our embrace of this side of ourselves.

And besides, every time the extra-clean-cut B-Boy hits that high note on the extended "Don't wanna hear you say!", the tenor in me just leaps in response. Maybe this should be on my karaoke list.

So, as we face another Valentine's Day, remember the words of the Boys:

You are my fire
My one desire
Believe when I say
I want it that way.

But we are two worlds apart
Can't reach to your heart
It's too late
But I want it that way

Tell me why (ain't nothing but a heartache)
Tell me why (ain't nothing but a mistake)
(Tell me why) I never wanna hear you say
That I want it that way.

Non-threateningly rock on, you buffoons.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

One Night in Evanston Makes the Tough Guys Tumble

Today's quote from the Professor: "I love the fact that I can be me, that I can wallow in me, that I can buy stuff for me, and when I don't get it I can blame you because I'm not happy." -on the benefits of American individuality over Communist collectivity.

I just got back from Evanston, IL, after having spent a night and morning down in my old college haunts. I have 18 papers to grade by Monday morning. So naturally I'm blogging and then going to take a nap. Always looking out for you, gentle readers.

Hubris was in town to see his girl Humility's show. Brownsox was in town just for the heck of it. As they had planned this together, they convinced Irish McJew to come down from Ann Arbor and me to briefly depart my Ivory Tower realm of Madison, in order that we may see each other and drink to celebrate our old times (or in an attempt to end our lives. The two usually go hand in hand).

After seeing the show at 8:00 on Friday, we all stocked up on alcohol and returned with our friend Kodez to his and Hodgkins' apartment to obliterate our minds and play Halo. At around 10:00, Hubris text messaged Quantum back in New York, whose plans involved similar consumption of alcohol (imagine that!). The message Hubris sent was, in essence, a challenge to see which group, Coasties or Wildcats, could get drunker by midnight (central time, a two-hour window). Quantum, in perhaps the most inspired bit of brevity since MacArthur's "I shall return," sent back immediately "It's on." And with that, the madness began.

We had all started with our own original drinks before the contest developed. I'm unsure what my cohorts consumed, but I personally had a Jack & Ginger with about 4-5 shots worth of Jack Daniels in it, planning to savor this for a while. However, when the challenge came, we immediately updated our Halo to Drinking Halo, and I quickly improvised the following rules:

1. Anytime you are killed, you drink.
2. Anytime you kill someone, you drink.
3. Kodez had created a character named Khan, a la Star Trek 2, and so anytime he killed someone, the deceased must yell "KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!" in the best Shatner-voice he can muster. Upon hearing this, everyone must stop and drink.
4. On the level with the train, anytime anyone is killed by the train itself, we all drink.

Moved by the simple beauty of the plan, we quickly leapt into the spirit of the game, finishing our drinks quickly and busting out the case of MGD Hubris had picked up. The players in the game were myself, McJew, Kodez, and Brownsox, while Hubris looked on with great amusement, determining to drink everytime anyone had to drink. In the span of those two hours of play, we killed almost the entire case of MGD, plus half a bottle of Wild Turkey, and various and sundry other alcoholically inclined beverages (for those of you who aren't alcoholics like us, yes, that's a lot). Now, such intense drunkery can only lead to good things, such as multiple obscene and sexually suggestive phone calls and texts to Uber260 and various others (what Brownsox and Hubris continually referred to as DrunkCataz, after some prank war between the Mooninites and Plutonians on Aqua Teen Hunger Force), as well as some truly profound infighting amongst ourselves. I can be quite offensive when I choose, as evidenced by my repeated claims that McJew's lack of Halo skills came not from the fact that he doesn't own the game or ever play it, but from his Hebraic ancestry. And Hubris ended up tackling me and nearly throwing me through the stairwell bannister because of my claims of superiority that both my parents are still alive (perhaps the most insensitive thing I've ever said, apologies to Hubris). At the time, it all seemed quite amusing, as do most things I say when I'm under the influence. I'm sure much more hilarity ensued, but my memory is all somewhat hazy, so for addendums see the links to Brownsox and McJew's own blogs, which will hopefully contain updates later. Needless to say, we won the contest (or were so drunk we couldn't be convinced we had lost), and all called Quantum to yell "KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!!!!!!!" one last time. We also called various other people who were not there drinking with us (the fools) and Brownsox and I both left extremely troubling messages for Hodgkins, who would not listen to them in our presence but instead promised to save them for later, like an unexpected treat. Apparently we watched some Sin City after that, and all passed out.

Upon awakening, I discovered that Brownsox had slept on the floor rather than the empty magic couch right next to his head (thus rivalling Uber260's earlier feat) and McJew had taken the pillow I brought with me, despite the plethora of pillows already on his magic couch. We eventually all woke up in various degrees of hungoverness, showered, dressed, etc. As a nice coup de grace to our epic evening, we played some games of Halo in black and white, as the color was off and we couldn't figure out how to fix it in under a minute, and therefore gave up. In our defense, turning it off and back on didn't work, nor did unplugging replugging it. After that, we were stumped. And lazy.

Had brunch with some old friends (including Sergio, he of the awesomeness that has given me his barbershop music) , and then drove home through a nice snowstorm. Props to my boys still back in E-town, who will surely repeat the whole affair tonight.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Chapter MLXIV: In Which it is Determined that a Mouse is No Match for a Badger

This promises to be another long post. I won't apologize for that, but I will try to segment the text for maximum accessability. As my friends here in Madison can attest, I am a bit of what we call a "word whore" (technical academic term), and while I may not have much to say, I can take a lot of time saying it if you put me in front of a computer. So bear with me. The first section is a brief rant about academia and academics, so if this is of no interest to you, skip ahead a bit. I promise there's a delightful section about drinking and the conclusion to the epic battle between man and mouse.

There are times when I really hate being an academic, and today was one of those days. In our graduate seminar on race and the "color line" in 20th century American Lit., we spent several minutes discussing two pieces of artwork that dominate the Supreme Court chambers (or courtroom, or trial-thingy, whatever the term). These are two classical Romanesque sculptures or bas-reliefs that depict such things as "Wisdom" and "Justice" and "The Majesty of Law" defending us from the evils of the world. We were invited to analyze these pieces and consider the effect they would produce on an observer, attempting to understand the way we in theory relate ourselves to the law.

Of course, being academics in a course about race, the class immediately leapt to attacking these pieces for their dominant, white, upper class, male, Christian ideologies. We concluded that they were actually involved in subjugating the masses, racist, misogynist, classist, elitist jerks who forced Christian ideals on the populace (this from a tablet with ten Roman numerals on it, which in theory represents the Bill of Rights but which, due to its profoundly Christian overtones of the Ten Commandments, automatically supercedes the overt interpretation of the piece, regardless of the facts that the rest of the piece is decidedly early Roman/ pre-Christian, there were no other overtly Christian symbols in the piece, and that the Ten Commandments were originally a Jewish concept). Whether these judgments were of the scupltor, the Founding Fathers, the formers of the Law itself, or the Supreme Court throughout the ages was never made clear.

While I will not debate the merits or faults of these claims themselves (yes, our Founding Fathers were not quite as racially or sexually enlightened as we claim to be today), I was incensed that the immediate instinct of the class was to criticize, attack, and attempt to subvert these things, as if the Supreme Court itself throughout all of its history was nothing more than some covert offshoot of the Republican Party (yes, the requisite Alito references were made). The class did not even consider the intent of nobility, the spirit of the Law that seeks to elevate Man out of a Hobbesian State of Nature, the impact not only on the participants but the Justices themselves of these eternal gazes of impossibly wise men (or muses or spirits), or anything else remotely positive regarding this artwork. And of course, when I, simmering with indignation, attempted to rectify this issue, I, in my eloquence, blathered on about tourists, the architecture of D.C. in general, and vague feelings and memories of my own time there. My inarticulate comments were greeted with a somewhat awkward silence, and then the topic shifted.

Sometimes I wonder if we, as critics, take the critical part of our work to too great an extent, looking only for faults and not for successes, and more often than not applying time-tested criticisms to new issues because they are "safely liberal." Why are we so quick to tear down, particularly items that are arguably works of art, especially when we are just as often willing to praise junk because it is in some undefinable way "interesting" to a select few? We at times seem so committed to appearing enlightened and socially acceptable that we automatically destroy things in order to put ourselves into a better light as intellectuals. Of course, some of this frustration may involve my eternal ire at being a conservative in a world of super-liberals. And, I wonder if our critiques of the Supreme Court and its artwork would have been quite so vehement if there were a Democrat president who had just appointed two extreme liberals to the bench. But forgive me, that's insensitive, thinking my fellow academics are bound within their personal politics and not living freely the life of the mind.

Here ends the rant. Now, the tale of drunkenness, mousedom, and children's theatre.

So the Baker was in town this weekend. This man is a very good friend of mine from high school, in that we took many classes together and performed in practically every play together throughout our four years (He played the Baker to my Jack in Into the Woods, hence the name). He lives in New York now, but is on tour with a children's theatre production which happened to be performing in Madison today. As he had Sunday off, we decided, quite naturally, to celebrate our meeting through the consumption of alcohol.

We dined at the Great Dane, a brew pub of some repute, and proceeded to each get a 10 glass sampler of their many different beers. Said beers were consumed, according to the rules apparently laid down in the ancient court of Hammurabi, where one cannot progress to the next beer until the other has also completed that beer, and beers must be drunk in order from light to dark. This led to some amusing scenes, as his beer came with a helpful placement guide and mine did not, so he proceeded to sniff each questionable beer to determine which one I must consume next. A great stickler for the rules, the Baker, and as I am a gentleman and a drunkard, I honored his rules with only a minimal amount of mockery.

Ten beers (40 oz) later, we were met by my Madison friends Nittany Lion and the Puncher, who escorted us to another bar with less undergraduates and more seating (vital things in Madison on a Saturday night), and we were later met by TheoryPirate, the Lady in Black, the Red-Headed Stepchild (the other half of Gray Matters), and a friend of hers from Iowa, whom I promptly forgot in my drunkenness and never spoke to. We each imbibed a great deal more beer and traded insults and wounds (well, we traded insults while the Puncher punched me and bit the Baker, a man she had known for less than two or three hours, due to his mockery of her beloved Red Wings). In the course of the evening I believe I was referred to as the Battle Cat to his He-Man, a statement I take gross objection to, as I always figured myself in more of a Man-at-Arms role. Of course, we ended the evening with drunken karaoke, which takes on new meaning when you're being antagonized by a drunk musical theatre professional with actual training. The epic session ended around 3:30, and I proceeded home while Lady in Black gave my friend a ride back to his hotel.

Upon my return, I found, much to my delight, the piteous corpse of my slain foe, the mouse of which I have previously written. After an epic duel in which he proceeded to steal the peanut butter from several traps without setting them off (much to my chagrin and amazement at his dextrous prowess), I replaced said peanut butter with Bucky Badger American Pasteurized Process Cheese Food (TM). Needless to say, the might of Bucky Badger quickly overcame the cunning of the mouse. I returned home in my state of extreme inebriation and found the lifeless carcass, and proceeded to perform a brief but exhilarating victory dance about my living room whilst heaping curses upon the spirit of mine enemy. Depositing his earthly remains in a bag, I removed him to the outside dumpster, swinging the bag over my head in the tradition of Tom Sawyer and other mouse-haters and continuing my curses, until I noticed the random man standing in my parking lot looking at me as if I were insane. Chastened, I meekly deposited the bag in the dumpster, and returned home to sleep, dreaming of victory.

The Baker's visit ended well, as we watched the Bowl and then I saw his play, a delightful musical comedy about the 1849 Gold Rush which taught the children present that racism and slavery are bad, Adam Smith capitalism is perhaps the greatest thing ever, it is ok to make a farce of the legal system when a higher ideal is at stake (the freeing of the aforementioned slave), and that vaguely Mexican/hispanic men are comic and somewhat homoerotic. All in all it was an enjoyable history lesson, and it has led me to the conclusion that all adults should watch children's theatre every once in a while.

Now, I go to buy shoes. Sorry for the ginormously long post. Well, not really, as this is my blog, and no one forced you to read it. Besides, you just wasted time that you could have spent doing actual work, which is really what blogs are for.