Archive for August 2013
I last checked in with you about teaching when I was wrapping up the school year and talking about the precious and capricious nature of summer vacation. That was 77 days ago, and now I’m on the eve of returning to school once again for my nineteenth year. I’m ready, if for no other reason than I need some institutionalized structure in my life despite a decent job of maintaining structure this summer. I’ll run better when I get back to mostly running in the morning, I’ll write more and better with the discipline of a few Creative Writing classes under my direction, and I’ll probably benefit from a better, more consistent diet.
The first thing we’ll experience is this year’s motivational speaker, which is a pro forma step in starting up the school year. It’s hard to remain optimistic about this after seeing a score of them over the years. A few have been great and a few have been horrible, but for the most part they’ve been mediocre. Mediocrity, though, is a sin if you’re tasked with motivating a school’s faculty, or even a baseball or a sales team. I’ve sat through mindless drivel that one time included chanting, that another time included a man singing Motown hits acapella, and that still another time included a married couple sharing too much information about their private lives and marriage while repeating ad nauseum to staff and students, “You are special!”
What chafes the most, though, are the typical war stories recounting events that may or may not have happened to any particular teacher. A lot of teachers with whom I have spent my career have grown tired of even their own stories and rarely tell them. Some stories have been mythologized the ways stories sometimes can be, like the one about the boy who had his arm ripped off by a street sign because he was hanging it out a school bus window. One asinine story I’ve heard several times from different school personnel and motivational speakers has to do with a teacher at a rough urban school who had remarkable success with a class of thugs and ne’er do wells. When asked what she did to succeed, she said it happened inadvertently. Seems she was reading the students’ schedules to see who she had on her rosters and was astounded at the IQ scores she kept seeing. She immediately revamped her lessons and ramped up all her expectations and found challenging, engaging activities so as not to be overwhelmed by all these supposedly super-smart kids. She was even able to maintain this throughout the year. Heck, she didn’t even have any discipline problems with classes that otherwise would have sent a teacher to the nut hatch. So how could all this be inadvertent? She hadn’t seen her students’ IQ scores–what she saw was their locker numbers!
Most often, that story or a variation of it is used as a setup for a speaker to say, “See! That’s why you need to set high expectations! Look what can happen!” Nevermind that I have never seen any kind of data to back that story up and it has never been attributed to a specific person, much as I’ve never seen a police report about a gang driving around a city at night with their lights off and killing motorists who flash their headlights at them. I imagine my school is a reasonable target for a bumbling speaker to peel of the yarn about the IQ scores because we have our share of ne’er do well classes and more than a few features in common with some rough urban schools. Unfortunately, the story is insulting because of the ignorance that has to be assumed for a teacher to believe it, and because it grossly over-simplifies what has to happen in a classroom for kids to meet and exceed high expectations. Still, setting high expectations for all students is probably the most important thing a teacher has to do. Come into a school on opening day and look around the audience when this message is delivered, and you’ll see all kinds of smiling and nodding and lips uttering “Right on! Sure thing!” Come back a few months later, and see how that has worked out. Setting and maintaining high expectations (and mind you, FAIR expectations) is a bit like watching sausage being made. It ain’t pretty. All too many teachers find themselves defending high expectations in light of lower or failing grades that can many times be a consequence of demanding a lot from students–especially low-level reluctant learners in schools with rough demographics. Try reminding interlopers of the kick-off message about setting high expectations, and you might hear something along the lines of, “I don’t think that means that so many of your students should be struggling.”
As for tomorrow’s speaker, we’ve already been informed that he has been “speaking to school audiences for 30 years…,” that his primary aim is “acknowledging, honoring, and connecting…,” and that he has earned an Emmy, a spot in the National Speakers Association Hall Of Fame, and that listening to him will provide an “unforgettable experience” and that we should “…be prepared to laugh and have fun as you look at building relationships through a new lens….”
This tips me off to this year’s message, which if I’m correct will be a recycled message from years past: Students will work and achieve if they feel the institution genuinely cares for them. The institution “genuinely caring for them” means that teachers should be building meaningful relationships with students. Much like the moral of the story about the IQ scores, there is a lot of sound insight therein, but merely talking about it and saying “This is what you should be doing” over-simplifies the problem. Furthermore, what constitutes a meaningful relationship is a very subjective, and like I said about parts of last year’s kick-off speech, too many people look at the idea of building relationships as the end instead of the means.
I’m going to cap off this ego trip down memory lane by re-posting the most widely-read piece that has appeared on The Seeker. I had no idea at the time it was going to be so popular, though that is probably most attributable to me putting “Ted Nugent” in the title–I learned from my Cade McNown post that name recognition pays off! This post, though, was a perfect confluence of circumstances in that the event that triggered it occurred in the heat of a tight presidential race in which I was very vested and I was teaching exactly what Nuge exemplified in his asinine tirade. I knew I liked Nugent’s music well enough, but didn’t care for his politics, and let myself wander as I wrote and did some research. I had no real agenda regarding what I was ultimately going to say, but ended up coming down pretty strong on the side of the Democrats. I didn’t have a problem with that as a teacher, writer, or as a Democrat. It ended up being one of the most political postings ever here (though I don’t slant towards writing about politics too much), but it didn’t make much of an impact for the first few weeks that it was up. Last November rolled around, though, and the stats on this post went through the roof. It was the reason why I set new records for single-day and single-month visits to the site. I can only hope that something else I write ends up being viewed by as many or more people.
When you’re a teacher, you sometimes find that current events and pop culture illustrate your content in ways you could never imagine. You never get tired of that happening, because it lends instant credibility to what you’re teaching, and thusly you don’t have to be pestered about how whatever you’re teaching is going to be used in real life. Sometimes, the connections between “real life” and class content come from totally unexpected sources, which is why I’m trying to wrap my head head around being able to use Ted Nugent as a reference point in my Creative Writing class.
First, it’s worth noting that Ted Nugent wrote and recorded “Stranglehold,” perhaps the most ass-kickingest song in the history of music. I defy you to listen to the first minute, starting with the opening guitar licks and the drums and bass kicking in, and not be totally pumped. It’s pure Ted Nugent jamming on his guitar, wailing on that thing for all it’s worth. There’s really no other way to describe the masterpiece other than as a balls-out psychedelic heavy metal jam. Nowadays, Nugent seems to be throwing himself into supporting gun rights and tearing down the Democratic Party the same way he threw himself into “Stranglehold” so many years ago. This is evidenced by his preposterous speech at the National Rifle Association convention last weekend in St. Louis.
One concept we study in Creative Writing when we study poetry is “hyperbole,” which is the intentional use of exaggeration. It is oft times used for comedic purposes, though it can also be used to make emphasis. You probably first encountered this by way of your parents: If I told you kids to shut up once, I’ve told you a thousand time! As you can see, hyperbole is figurative; it’s not meant to be taken literally. It’s also an easy concept for high school students to grasp, because THEY USE IT ALL THE TIME! “My backpack weighs a ton… Everybody else is doing it… I swear to god I almost died running laps in gym…” You might also be familiar with it by way of The Beatles’ “Taxman.” It’s all over the opening stanzas:
Let me tell you how it will be / There’s one for you, nineteen for me / ‘Cause I’m the taxman… Should five per cent appear too small / Be thankful I don’t take it all / ‘Cause I’m the taxman… If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street, / If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat. / If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat, / If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.
Now, thanks to Uncle Ted, I don’t have to point to my students or Beatles songs as the best examples of hyperbole. Some of my favorite lines from Nugents speech:
“If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”
“If you can’t galvanize and promote and recruit people to vote for Mitt Romney, we’re done.”
“We are patriots. We are Braveheart. We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November.”
Not to be outdone by even himself, Nugent hit one out of the park Tuesday on a radio talkshow while defending his comments and talking about how he fits in with the Democratic administration in Washington: “I’m a black Jew at a Nazi-Klan rally.”
Nugent’s penchant for hyperbole shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. His career as a guitar legend seemed based heavily on bombast, to the point that in the heyday of his career, he may as well have been strutting around the stage with his junk hanging out the front of his pants. It’s easy to hear that after a few runs through “Stranglehold,” the guitar solo of which ranks at #31 on both the Guitar World list of the 50 Greatest Guitar Solos and Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All-Time. But take a listen to “Cat Scratch Fever,” “Free For All“, “Dog Eat Dog,” or Double Live Gonzo!, too. His way of crashing headlong and guitar-first through songs helped establish the tone for his genre of rock and cement his reputation as The Motor City Madman (if I had that cool of a nickname, I’d do everything I could to take it to my grave).
So it seems Nugent attacks everything with the same degree of gusto he once had for his music. It’s cool to be able to live like that, but the NRA (and the Republican party) are stuck with damage control in the wake of his rant. Maybe Nugent’s political leanings and zeal for gun rights will simmer to a tepid joke, much as his music career did with Damn Yankees.
Finally, hyperbole, just like any other element of poetic craft, is something a writer decides to use with a great deal of intentionality to convey certain ideas. So what if Ted Nugent wasn’t intentionally using hyperbole? Then it’s called melodrama. Either way, if you’re stumping for the Republicans in 2012, is Nugent the guy you want on your side? Wasn’t Sarah Palin embarrassment enough?
This is one of my all-time favorites on The Seeker because I had so much fun writing it–reminiscing and researching often make for a good writing experience for me. Plus, this quickly became the most-read post in the history of the blog, and held that record for over a year, until I ranted about the cinematic turd that was Marvel’s The Avengers. Still, this one pops up pretty frequently when I check blog stats. I don’t know if it’s necessarily because of the quality of writing so much as I wrote “Cade McNown” in the title, hoping that anyone who Googles his name might stumble across it. I talk later in this entry about the curse of the McNown jersey and the pains I went through to break it; I may have spoke too soon. I wrote this because of the pending NFC championship game between Da’ Bears and the Packers, which the Bears lost. Maybe it’s time to reconsider my devotion to the jersey.
Da’ Bears have been all the buzz in Chicago this week as they have prepared to face Green Bay for a chance to play in the Super Bowl. Bears flags have been snapping in the Arctic air, and navy and orange have been haute couture everywhere you go. The fervor has me thinking about my status as a Bears fan. I feel devout, though some of my closest friends would take issue with how I express myself. That’s because I own a Cade McNown jersey, and more often than not I wear it on game day. It’s not something many Bears fans would admit, or even write about in their blogs, but I do. I own a Cade McNown jersey.
Most Bears fans will roll their eyes at the mention of the mostly forgotten McNown, the Bears #1 draft pick out of UCLA in 1999. Instead, they prefer to focus their ire on Rex Grossman, the Bears quarterback who foundered in Super Bowl XLI and the season subsequent to it. Grossman’s ineptitude in the title game four years ago is the stuff of legends. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 154 yards, threw two interceptions, fumbled twice, and got sacked once. His performance rivaled those of Vince Ferragamo and Steve Grogan in their respective Super Bowls. His numbers with the Bears over six seasons were ugly. He completed 53% of his passes, had a touchdown-to-interception ration of 33:35, got sacked 58 times, had an average Quarterback Rating of 70.2, compiled an overall record of 19-12, and spent most of his first three seasons on injured reserve. But if Grossman’s numbers were ugly, then McNown’s numbers were hideous. He completed 54% of his passes, had a 16:19 touchdown-to-interception ratio, ate turf 45 times, had an anemic QB Rating of 67.7, and was a staggering 3-12 as a starter. Furthermore, McNown got himself banned from the Playboy Mansion, was implicated in a handicapped parking scandal at UCLA, and couldn’t pay the fee at a toll booth driving out of Chicago one time. A friend of mine once had seats behind the Bears bench, which afforded him a great view of the hissy fit McNown threw when he couldn’t find his helmet during the game.
So how in the name of “Papa Bear” Halas could Bears fans forget all that? It was only ten years ago! More importantly, why in the hell do I not only own, but wear, a Cade McNown jersey?
It started in late summer of 2001. I was tailgating with my buddies Scott and Adam before a preseason game. Just days before, McNown had been released after two pathetic seasons. As such, we were commiserating the sorry state of Bears quarterbacks. Never one to pass up the chance to venture an absurd proposal, I vowed that if we found a Cade McNown jersey for $10, I’d buy it and wear it at the game. Soon enough, we walked past a souvenir stand and there it was, like a turd in a punch bowl: A white #8 Bears jersey with “McNown” printed across the back. The price tag read $10. I asked the salesman if that meant he was going to pay me $10 for taking it off his hands. He chuckled, took my sawbuck, and I slipped my new jersey on over my t-shirt. It was but the first of dozens of times I would wear it.
Since that fateful night a decade ago, I’ve come to love my McNown jersey. The price was definitely right, it’s proven rather durable after numerous washings and wearings, and adds an ironic seasoning to my allegiance. Since I bought it, the Bears have compiled an 87-73 record, made the playoffs four times, and played in the Super Bowl. Plus, it’s usually good for a laugh or an off-handed comment when I wear it in public. I once wore it to a Milwaukee Brewers game for the sole purpose of aggravating Cheeseheads. It worked.
But it has not all been gags and glory with my #8 rag. For a time, the jersey held a playoff curse. Such is the risk you assume when you twit the authority of the football gods. I was wearing the jersey five months after I bought it when the Bears, having unexpectedly wrapped up the NFC Central with a 13-3 record, fell to the Eagles 33-19 in the divisional playoffs. Scott, Adam, and I watched helplessly as it unfolded. I thought it was a coincidence. Four years later, the Bears faced the Panthers in the playoffs. I had a rowdy group over at my apartment feasting on jambalaya and fried catfish as we watched the game, and there were a few comments about me wearing the jersey. The Panthers mauled the Bears 29-21.
I knew it wasn’t a coincidence. I could sense it from the way tiny hairs stood up on the back of my neck when Muhsin Muhammad dropped a pass late in the game. As soon as the debacle was over, I practically tore the jersey off and threw it in the snow on my balcony. It layed there in a haphazard slump for three weeks, until I was certain that any evil spirits had fled its frozen threads.
It worked. A year later, the Bears fought their way to the Super Bowl, and I wore #8 all the way through Seattle and New Orleans. But the Bears faced the Colts for the title, and as much as I like the boys from Halas Hall, I couldn’t deny my roots. I was born and raised in Indiana and was a Colts fan for fifteen years before I came to the Bears, so I was obliged to wear my blue and white hoodie and back Peyton Manning.
None of what happened during the Bears futile attempt in Super Bowl XLI, though, changes the fact that the curse of the McNown jersey has been broken. Since the exorcism, the Bears are 3-0 in the playoffs when I’ve wore it. I have full faith in its renewed powers and how it represents my fandom. I’ll be wearing it Sunday afternoon when the Bears face the Packers at Soldier Field. I hope we beat the hell out of ’em. It’s going to be World War III.
So yeah, I’m a Bears fan. I own a Cade McNown jersey.
It’s not uncommon to find poetry on The Seeker, though the first poem didn’t appear herein until the blog was a year and a half old. I would wager, though, that the poetry posted here is generally of higher quality than most of the other writing based on the meticulous nature of writing poetry. Regardless, here’s what I consider to be the best poem I’ve posted. I was cautious for the longest time about having disappointed my friend who is the basis for the poem; turns out she was honored. I remember exactly how this one came about, too–sometimes, especially as a poet, you experience something so unusual or unexpected that it screams “poem!” because you instantly see the deeper meanings in the event. That happened when I visited the titular friend early on Christmas Day in 2011. I was back at my father’s house shortly thereafter hurriedly scratching out notes in my journal before everybody showed up for presents and food and such. Looking at my journal just now, I see the first two sentences I wrote: “There’s a chair up in a tree in back of the house Kim rents, back where the brambles have grown wild and thick. Damned if she knows how it got there, she tells me.” You can see how some of that was preserved in the final product. My writer instincts must have been working in high gear that day. And hey–bonus! I’ve learned how to format poems on WordPress, so no more poems with wonky formatting!
There’s a chair up in a tree
in back of the house Kim rents,
back where the brambles shred flannel and denim
or twist ankles.
It’s a sturdy, metal-framed chair
with a crumbling foam pad fixed to the seat.
It could provide at least some comfort from the aggravations of a day–
but that it’s dangling from a branch fifteen feet up.
Damned if I know how it got there, Kim tells me.
It’s not something you expect.
But neither was the diagnosis of Porphyria at seventeen.
Nor nearly flat-lining delivering her third child
Nor the .380 in her nightstand as insurance against her ex-husband.
Nor the latest: Lupus.
Damned if I know how it got there, she repeats, standing at her patio doors,
against the bleached December landscape.
Her brow wrinkles.
It is what it is.
You get used to it.
Baseball is the second-most written about topic on The Seeker, and I don’t feel like I’ve written about it quite as well as I did with this one, which is only the third baseball post ever here. I thought for a while about trying to get this published, and think I got it rejected from at least one place, but then decided it looks best here (which also means I got tired of trying to improve upon it!). It’s also five years old (original post date: October 5, 2008), which like yesterday’s Dirty Harry post makes it one of the oldest posts on the blog. One of the things I like best about it is how it’s a document to my disillusionment with the Cubs (and could likely serve as the same for many other Cubs fans), and foreshadows my forsaking of the team until they finally show that they’re serious about baseball. It’s been five years, and they haven’t gotten too much closer to doing that (a .447 winning percentage since this was originally posted). This is a long one, though, which makes it a dinosaur in these pages. I stopped posting pieces of this size, having finally realized that shorter is definitely better for The Seeker. And yes, I can hear you sigh with relief at my having said that!
Like a tired animal that wants nothing more than deliverance, I’ve crawled to a dark corner and I wait. This dark corner is a bar close to my condo; it’s scattered with a handful of high-top tables, a pool table, and a dozen locals. Someone cues “Stairway to Heaven” on the jukebox. It plays like a dirge.
I talked to my brother on the phone almost the entire way here. He’s a non-Cubs fan, bordering on hating them. Odd for a man who took me to my first Cubs game and used to scalp tickets at the corner of Clark and Addison like it was his job. Neither of us can figure out what has happened. I have theories ranging from factual (Derrek Lee is choking) to superstitious- the baseball gods are punishing the Cubs for the Disneyland atmosphere at Wrigley; that, and the Cubs were supposed to be first to break their curse in 2003, before the Red Sox and White Sox broke theirs. Of course, there’s always the curse of the billygoat.
The carnival atmosphere may be most to blame; it has enveloped Wrigleyville like a fog cloud, soaking into the bleachers like paint, and finally trickling into the psyche of the players. It manifested itself in Game 1 when the Cubs showed up like it was a spring training game; or worse, like Dusty Baker had given them a pregame pep talk.
Bottom of the 1st: Russell Martin advances to 3rd; the replay clearly shows he was thrown out by Alfonso Soriano. James Loney’s single is enough to plate Manny Ramirez from 2nd base. Why on Earth would the Red Sox ditch him?
The carnival atmosphere has blown north on a crisp fall wind. The first bar I walked past on my way here was flooded with people. They leaked out onto the front stoop and into the street. No word about the Cubs on my way past. I seem to be the only one concerned with their fate. There could be several explanations for that. I’m still in my infancy as a citizen of Cubs Nation; still naive. I’m still concerned, still insistent, still something about all the great things that could happen to the team now and in the future. I didn’t suffer the collapse of ’84. The tragedy of ’03 smarted, but it was my first wound and it eventually healed. But now I am hurting. I’m invested in this team. We share common blood. I suffered the Dusty Baker years, positive there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. A mere two years later, it looked like there was not only a light, but one shining from the heavens, beckoning us all to immortality.
In the 3rd inning, the music from the jukebox still blares: “Bad Moon Rising,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” Who programmed this music, Cardinals fans? When Mike Fontenot and Derrek Lee get on base, one other bar patron notices.
Have we accepted this as our fate, that the Cubs are always going to be losers, so why not just get drunk and celebrate it? Why not perpetuate the cycle of the expectation of failure, accept it, and live with it? But I can’t. There’s still some childish optimism in me, something that believes there is a collective will, a collective conscience, and we can will the Cubs to win. Surely Boston fans did it on ’04. How else is there to explain the collapse of the Yankees after they held a 3-0 advantage in the ALCS?
In the Dodgers half of the third, Fontenot tweaks his ankle chasing an overthrown pickoff attempt. The sparkplug Lou Pinella was hoping would stoke the Cubs’ engine to higher performance is misfiring. Fontenot jogs it off, adjusts his cup, and is ready to play. Where has that grit and determination been in other Cubs?
Two guys stumbled in during the 2nd inning, took a table, and halfway pay attention to the game. Now there are at least three of us vested.
Jim Edmonds advanced Geovany Soto in the 4th inning. The Cubs batted 5 times last inning, and now are doing things that win playoff games. They’ve worked Hiroki Kuroda to 67 pitches already. There might be some hope left; they batted 5 times again this inning.
The Cubs got beat in Game 1 because the Dodgers played classic Joe Torre playoff baseball. They made Ryan Dempster pitch to them, worked him late into the count every time they could, collected an ungodly amount of walks, and then pounded the ball when Dempster gave them something. It was textbook, and I was surprised Pinella waited so long for Dempster to get on track, which makes me believe that Pinella might be the problem. His Mariner teams flamed out remarkably in the playoffs, even when stacked with its own All-Star team with the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., A-Rod, and Randy Johnson.
Between the 4th and 5th, a local drunk stumbles over to see what I’m writing and manages to spew out, “I hope the Cubs pull off the impossible and comeback.”
“Me, too,” I tell him.
“Same with the Sox. I’m a Sox fan.” Before stumbling over to the pool table, he checks with me. “What inning is it?”
There’s a simple solution to all this: Abandon the Cubs. I call them my team, have written and published stories about how I was reborn into baseball in 2001 and emerged as a Cubs fan; I’ve further proclaimed myself a Brewers fan, but would stick with the Cubs over them. But there’s more to the story than that. I’m a lifelong Orioles fan, ever since my father took me to an Orioles / Tigers double-header in 1979 and we sat in the first two rows by the visitor’s on-deck circle. The only major big-ticket baseball item I have purchased is an Orioles officially-licensed MLB jersey. But that team sucks, too, and they’re half a continent away. I guess I’ve decided to root for a team that sucks locally.
“Freebird” plays on the jukebox as I think about this, and it appears to be playing for a reason. I can’t change this now; I’m a Cubs fan. I’m not fair-weather with my teams any more than I am with my friends. I’m in this until the end of days.
During a pitching change in the 5th, a girl chokes on her liquor and spews it on the floor. She rushes to the restroom, but comes out of the restroom a minute later grasping her throat and pleading with her friends that she didn’t vomit.
The Cubs have played from behind the entire series, except for that brief blissful span in Game 1 after Mark DeRosa’s two-run homer. Playing from behind is not going to work in the playoffs, not against a manager who is going to dictate that his team plays patient baseball with very deliberate at-bats and solid defense.
An Hispanic woman in a navy Jewel cashier smock is sitting at the bar and has been minding the game. The two guys who came in the 2nd inning are long gone; there’s only two of us now. She looks at me plaintively when Edmonds strikes out to end the Cubs’ 6th. We shake our heads. She has a tired face and heavy eyelids.
There’s a pitching change in the bottom of the sixth, Carlos Marmol for Sean Marshall.
Is this what the band felt like aboard the Titanic as the freezing water inched closer and closer?
The bar is as quiet as it has been since I entered. I make a quick trip to the bathroom between the 6th and 7th inning and find a woman in the men’s facilities. A man is washing his hands; he looks at me, shakes his head, and claims, “Dude, I don’t even know.”
Kosuke Fukudome has inexplicably been inserted into the lineup, despite Pinella’s apparent disgust with him after Game 2. He’s my favorite Cub, and moreover an example of my favorite MLB players on the whole: the Japanese ones. Their fundamentals are always so excellent; they’re always so focused. My heart sinks a bit, but he strokes a single in the 7th and advances Ryan Theriot to 2nd with 1 out. Alfonso Soriano is up. Torre makes a pitching change.
The Cubs are 0-6 with runners in scoring position when Fontenot gets up with runners at the corners with 2 outs. He flies to center, and it if wasn’t obvious before, it is now: The greatest fear of Cubs nation has come true. We are slumping at the worst possible time, and can no more pull ourselves out of it than a magnet can pull itself away from North. I’m halfway through my third beer of the evening, and am feeling a bit of a soothing buzz in my brain. I could stay here until closing and drink myself into oblivion.
The Russell Martin run that was allowed to score in the first because of the botched call at third base is of no consequence. The Cubs have gone 0-7 with RISP since then, and are still trying to hatch a goose egg.
Derrek Lee scores in the 8th. One person claps.
Seventeen thousands dollars has been raised for someone affectionately known as “Gizmo.” A man parading around the bar holding a banner that proclaims as much tells everybody that Gizmo was his right-hand man, and they all ought to be proud of themselves for having raised so much. Two girls in white t-shirts with information about the Gizmo fundraiser have been in the bar for a few innings now, promoting whatever the cause is. One breaks into sobs and moves to the back of the bar when the man with the banner announces the totals.
Neil Cotts strikes out the side in the Dodgers’ half of the 8th. Where has that been all year?
Top of the 9th. The bar is almost empty. Hip-hop blares from the jukebox. A man has his dog on a leash and is walking it around the bar.
Soriano whiffs to end the game. Nobody notices. Nothing changes in the dark corner. The music plays too loud. A few drunk girls stumble past my table. Nobody says a word about the game.
I pack my stuff, zip my hoodie, and walk home. It’s cold; the air nips at my bald head. I can see my breath when I exhale. I can see some leaves that have changed color when I pass under street lights. There are Halloween decorations up in many yards. Baseball season is over for me. I’ll think I’ll hibernate until April. Then I’ll wake up and drink the Kool-Aid once again. The Cubbie Blue Kool-Aid.
Here’s the seventh post ever on The Seeker, dating back to September, 2008. It’s not uncommon for me to write about film, so this re-post respects that recurring theme. The intro says it all in regard to where the idea came from. I had a ton of fun writing it, and thankfully got encouraging laughs from some readers. Structuring the content as a list is certainly not original–I was inspired by my daily readings of Cracked.com–but it can be easy and effective. I realized I could use lists to some effect on the blog, and it’s become a somewhat frequent form herein. In regard to the contents, though: The Dirty Harry movies really are senseless fun. They’re formulaic, have more than their share of poor acting, and are definitely the lesser of Eastwood’s filmography. Nonetheless, they occupy an interesting niche in pop culture, and it was worth exploring that niche while also poking some fun at it.
American Movie Classics has been running Dirty Harry movies all week, and in honor of their observance of one of the greatest cinematic badasses of all time, I got to thinking about why the testosterone crowd loves movies with Harry Callahan and his huge handgun.
1. Dirty Harry fights crime and gets results, which is the kind of macho enforcement crap that men love. Harry Callahan alone has flushed out psychotic snipers threatening the innocent (if flaky) citizens of San Francisco, dismantled a cadre of corrupt cops bent on creating a new society that looked a helluva lot more like Nazi Germany than the United States, exterminated a gaggle of political radicals threatening the mayor of San Francisco (even though Harry personally didn’t care for the mayor, he didn’t let his feelings get in the way of his job), rescued a small seaside town in California from the twisted vengence of a rape survivor, cleaned up the Mafia problem in San Francisco, and saved us all from more movies in which Liam Neeson directs hack-job heavy metal videos while still finding time to supposedly kill people to win a sick and twisted game.
2. The Dirty Harry films are but a branch in a complex network of badass, tough guy films starring and directed by badass tough guys; thus, they have won our respect and acclaim by remaining true to their roots. The original Dirty Harry was directed by renowned badass director Don Siegel. His catalogue of work includes the original sci-fi-identity-theft thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which has been remade twice), Coogan’s Bluff, Two Mules for Sister Sara, and the prison drama Escape From Alcatraz. The prison drama alone should be enough to enshrine Siegel in the Testosterone Hall of Fame, but that wasn’t even his greatest film. That honor goes to the gritty 1962 combat film Hell is For Heroes, which features a crane shot so brilliant and moving that men routinely weep and crap their pants at the sight of Siegel capturing the frailties of men in combat. And that’s only after James Coburn gets wrecked by his own flamethrower. In addition to this, Siegel’s film showcases Steve McQueen, a Testosterone Hall of Fame charter member. He plays Reese, a salty combat survivor who cracks when the pressure is off. If that isn’t enough to make you rush out and buy a DVD of the film, Siegel makes milquetoast cuteboys Bob Newhart, Bobby Darrin, and Nick Adams look like plausible combatants in the same flick. One of Siegel’s final films was The Shootist, starring all-time President and Overlord of the Testosterone Hall of Fame, John Wayne. Ron Howard obviously picked up a trick or two from Siegel during the filming (Howard plays piss-pants Gillom in the film); that has enabled him to make some decent films of his own despite not being a badass. Siegel knew badasses when he saw them, and that’s why he picked Clint Eastwood to star in many of his films. He also snared notorious basass Charles Bronson for his 1977 film Telefon, badass extraordinaire Lee Marvin for The Killers in 1964, and badass Robert Mitchum for The Big Steal (1949). The only way Siegel could have been more of a badass would have been if he had collaborated with other card-carrying badasses like Burt Lancaster, William Holden, and Gene Hackman.
3. Dirty Harry uttered enough cornball one-liners to make James Bond blush, and we all love to say them to our friends and in department stores when the checkout lines are moving too slowly. A small sampling of the best of Harry Callahan includes the original, “Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?” in addition to: “A man has got to know his limitations…” (right after he blows up Hal Holbrook at the end of Magnum Force), “This badge is a seven-point suppository… you can stick it up your ass…” (when he hands his badge and gun over to Captain McKay in The Enforcer), “Your mouthwash ain’t makin’ it…” (said to same later in The Enforcer), the tired “Go ahead, make my day…” in Sudden Impact, and my personal favorite (also from Sudden Impact), “Nobody, and I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hotdog.”
4. Clint Eastwood knew when the Dirty Harry films lost their meaning, and even though it was almost too late, got out before they turned into recurring celluliod jokes like Death Wish XIV, Lethal Weapon VII, and Die Harderest that would only immasculate him. Eastwood and Harry’s only real misstep was 1988’s regrettable The Dead Pool. One major mistake was the poor choice of casting a miserably unable Liam Neeson as the main suspect. Eastwood walked away after that, but he knows that right now he could write, direct, and produce another Dirty Harry film starring the likes of Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Hillary Swank, Sean Penn, and Forest Whitaker that would mostly likely win Academy Awards for best director, best cinematography, best actor, best actress, best costumes, best sound design, best foreign-language film, and probably best animated feature.
5. The Dirty Harry films are the grandfathers of maverick cop stories we all love to watch. Dirty Harry was released in 1971 amidst an unusual Hollywood movement that was a essentially a backlash to the hippy counterculture designed to let the long-hair pot heads know that staunch conservatives are still in control. Other films around the same time all featured the lone, badass symbol of justice setting the bureaucratic, liberal, bleeding-heart legal system on its ear with his own brand of enforcement: Death Wish (1974) and Bullitt (1968) are two examples. It was such a fad that it enabled two other films of the same kind to be made, and they were based on true stories: The French Connection (1971) and Serpico (1973). If not for the popularity of these films and the Dirty Harry series, modern classics like the original Die Hard and Lethal Weapon films may not have been made. And if not for them, you can forget about other “realistic” cop dramas on TV like Hill Street Blues and The Shield.
6. Harry Callahan fought Political Correctness as successfully as he did crime, which was a victory for everyone with the “Y” chromosome. Despite all that faced him in terms of crime and corruption, Harry still managed to get all his partners dispatched. While Harry didn’t directly cause them to die, it was no coincidence that every partner assigned to him because of the demands of political correctness, racial and gender quotas, and Affirmative Action died while working with Harry. Early Smith (token black man) was blasted to a new zip code in Magnum Force, and Kate Moore (token woman) was given more breathing holes in The Enforcer. The only clemency granted was to Al Quan (token Asian man) in The Dead Pool, and that was because he did a very un-Callahanlike thing by wearing a kevlar vest. Harry’s greatest PC coupe, though, was managing to openly display his penis (read: his power and authority) throughout large parts of each film, despite the presence of women, children, and other lesser men in and around the San Francisco area (some Bay Area residents would say this is normal behavior in the city). Albeit his penis was symbolized by a .44 Magnum (and later, a .44 Automag), Harry still bandied it about with impunity, thus inspiring generations of gun enthusiasts, hunters, NRA freaks, Charleton Heston fans, and Dick Cheney.
It’s birthday time once again at the top-secret, lush, and well-provisioned headquarters of The Seeker here on the west side of Gurnee, IL. The condo is decked out in celebratory regalia, the bar is laid out and fully stocked, there’s plenty of ice, and I’ve been tinkering with all types of hors d’oevers for the past day. The DJ and dancers should be showing up any time now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if several members of the media are here to cover the occasion.
All that aside, I’ve been at it here for five years, writing mostly about writing, a lot about baseball and movies, and frequently about other diversions such as teaching and running. If you’ve been following along, as some of you have for the entire five years, here’s what you’ve seen:
- 12,000+ views (since moving to WordPress in April, 2010)
- A single-month record of 952 views in November, 2012
- 297 posts (about one a week)
- 185 comments
- A single-day record of 80 views on January 24, 2013
- 26 followers
- 1 book published based on material that first appeared on The Seeker
- 1 threatened lawsuit
Despite all this, I have found myself hesitant to blog in the past six months. The Seeker has not on my mind with regularity, even though I’m doing as much or more writing overall as I’ve ever done. In fact, when I look at the numbers, I see that blog posts are down by more than one third in the last two years. I’m not sure what that means other than I’m not as enthusiastic about blogging as I was a few years ago. I don’t think it means that I’ve run out of things to say (is that even possible??!!)–honestly, I can’t imagine myself not having this blog. It remains a solid outlet for my writing outside of the poetry and fiction I’ve been working on for the most part the last three years, and still gives me a chance to reflect on writing, which is the original purpose of the blog. So I guess I’m saying that a year from now I’ll be posting something about the sixth anniversary of The Seeker, but there might not be as many posts as there have been in the past. And don’t think I can’t hear you sighing in relief!
Still, there has been some writing posted here that I’m proud to have generated. As a way to revisit some of that writing and celebrate a milestone, I’m going to take the next five days to re-post and comment on a few of the more popular, insightful, or well-received pieces from the first five years of The Seeker. So stay tuned for a trip in the way-back machine, and whatever else the future holds.