Friday, September 19, 2008

My first bar fight

Well…I’m back. I took a considerable amount of time off from blogging, but have decided to get back on track. I’m not going to spend too much time on an intro here, because the title speaks for itself. Very few people know about this night, and if they do, they probably don’t have all of the facts straight. So here goes:

It was one of those nights where you look back on it and say to yourself: “I wish I would of just stayed my ass home,” but I ended up going out anyway. I was coaxed into it because we already had a pretty good group at our apartment, and it’s hard to say “no” to visitors. The establishment was Blarney’s and it was a Thursday night.

Now, this wasn’t exactly my first time there, so I know the drill as far as checking ID’s go. You walk through the door first and are greeted by two bouncers sitting in chairs right next to each other on the inner part of the bar – one of them scans your driver’s license, while the other verifies your picture. This is the way it has always been, and trust me…we frequented this place pretty often at the time. Unbeknownst to me, Blarney’s had instated a new policy for checking ID’s on this night, and I wasn’t exactly informed in a cordial manner. I walked into through the door with wallet in hand, ready to hand my driver’s license to the bouncer – just as I had always done. I got about one step inside the bar, only to be caught off guard by a man wearing an Irish green shirt. He approached me from behind, grabbing me by the neck, and violently flinging me out the door – nearly knocking me off my feet.

The expressions on the faces of the people with me told the entire story. I remember standing next to a guy named Kevin – he had wide eyes, his jaw dropped, and basically had a “holy shit” look on his face. I attempted to gather myself and walk to the end of the line. I then watched the rest of the people in our group reluctantly hand their IDs over to this genuinely volatile and unstable human being.

So, this was very interesting to me. After watching about 4-5 people go ahead of me, I now had to hand my card over to the guy that essentially assaulted me. Although we were face-to-face, he never once looked me in the eye or spoke to me. I remember thinking to myself: You need to get an explanation.

I proceeded to ask him:

“So…what happened back there?” (no response)….

“Don’t you guys usually check ID’s inside?” (no response)…

“Excuse Me…..Don’t you usually check ID’s inside??” (still nothing).

The bouncer just continued his character role - Playing the part of either a bad ass or a mute, I couldn’t quite identify it. After a thorough inspection of my driver’s license, he handed it back to me and proceeded to the next person in line as if nothing had happened. I went back into the bar to try and meet up with the group, but I honestly had a tough time letting this go. I wish I could say I did the noble thing – turned the other cheek and didn’t allow it to get to me, but I was very bothered by the way things transpired. That was absolutely inexcusable. You do not grab people like that. Especially those who are obviously not drunk and pose no threat to your general area.

I was encouraged by those around me who told me that the bouncer was way out of line, and I attempted to salvage what was left of the evening. The beers kept coming my way – I even think I had a rare shot of Jack Daniels, and I began to enjoy myself. Make no mistake about it, I was buzzed, but I was definitely still cognitive and in control. This is where the story differentiates from those who were not present and re-told it back in my hometown of Moorhead. In their version, you would have thought I was damn near black-out drunk and hurling glass bottles at bad karaoke singers.

Overall, I remember spending the majority of my night with a guy named Kent. We were wandering around and getting a lot of attention from the women-folk, and that in my estimation is was what started this whole ordeal. I have re-visited this several times in my head, and to me, that is the only possible explanation for what spurred the next confrontation. I remember talking to a girl when all of sudden…WHAM. I couldn’t believe it….Of all people…it was the same bouncer using the same cowardly maneuver that he had pulled on me earlier in the evening – grabbing my neck and throwing me backwards.

This time he was looking me dead in the eye, burning a whole right through me, and telling me it was time to go! I have thought about it over and over much after the incident, but I am now most certain – I had to have been conversing with his girl.

So, essentially this whole thing started when I was outside, and was resumed once I was inside. I have no problem with authority, but to me there is a fine line between respecting authority and taking shit – and enough was enough for me. I was absolutely livid. It was kind of like the cartoons because I resembled Yosemite Sam with fumes coming out of my ears. I reminded him about the incident outside and how he replicated just now, and asked him (in different words) if he was capable of attacking somebody that was actually facing him. He had a few choice words for me, and then capped it all off with: “It’s time to go!” (again). And I responded with the comment that set off an incident that would soon garner the attention of everybody in the bar:

“It’s 1:30 jackass… you can go f*ck yourself!”

And just like that – It was on. I knew he would be the first to come at me, but he did something that I did not anticipate. This guy was a clearly of fan of that UFC outfit, because he tried execute a move that you would more than likely see on the show. I’m not making this up (and this is an employee of Blarney’s mind you), the first thing he did was shoot my legs and try to take me away from my vertical base. I can’t imagine this is standard bouncer protocol. The only problem was apparently he didn’t watch enough cage fighting film because I instinctively took two steps back, and he ended up misfiring about two feet short. He then commenced bear crawling towards me and grabbed my feet and ankles.

So my first reaction is to obviously get this guy off of me – it is very strange to be grabbed by your ankles. I attempted a variation of headlock, which didn’t last very long. Another bartender/bouncer came from behind me (again) while my hands were tied up, and stuck his middle and ring fingers into my eyes (another thing that I thought was completely unnecessary) in an attempt to immediately get me off this guy . The act of somebody forcefully sticking their fingers into your eyeballs is something that I wish upon nobody. I have been stung by a jellyfish, bitten by a parrot, but never have I ever had a worse pain in my life than the night my eyes were gauged out at the bar. I hurled my body backwards with everything I had in desperation to get this guy’s hands out of my eyes, but it was to no avail (I was this told this did however, break a glass window/light). The last thing I remember is my feet clearing the ground and being systematically and literally thrown out of the bar. I landed stomach and face first in the street.

This hurt very badly – I was in a lot of pain. The people that I came with were nowhere near me, and going in the bar to find them was definitely not an option. I am very grateful for what happened afterwards. These two guys, who I’m convinced were my guardian angels, picked me off the ground and helped walk me back home. These guys didn’t know me at all and I can’t even remember their names. The only thing I remember them saying was that they lived in Dinkytown. They walked a mile out of there way to help a complete stranger.

The only dialogue that I can recall is them asking me multiple times if I was ok and them repeatedly stating that they couldn’t believe what they did to me. I remember being most concerned with my eyesight. At the time, I was convinced that I had permanently damaged vision. I should mention that I wear contact lenses (that were ripped out of my eyes during fight), and I am almost blind without them – we’re talking Stevie Wonder. I don’t trust my ability to walk to the refrigerator and pick out on orange without contacts, let alone walk home from Dinkytown to Melrose. I sincerely wish I get a chance to meet the guys who helped me again some day, because I sincerely owe them a debt of gratitude.

I woke up that morning struggling to get a new contact into my disfigured right eye so I could take a look at myself. Not only were both my eyes discolored but my left bicep, forearms, and stomach were severely cut up and bruised.

It is a very humbling experience to get beat on that badly, and it definitely changed me to a certain extent. I’ve really scaled back the drinking, and I don’t frequent the bar scene as much as I used to. The weekend doesn’t start on Wednesday anymore, and when I do go out I am more reserved. I certainly didn’t write this blog in spite of Blarney’s, but I’m not necessarily endorsing them either, and I will never go back.

Although I don’t believe I was completely innocent, I’ll never believe I did anything wrong by standing up for myself. Word gets around quickly in a small town, and upon hearing that “Shawn got beat up real bad at a bar in Minneapolis,” my mother called me crying the next day. She then passed the phone to my dad and he gave me a response similar to the one I heard in Junior High when a coach broke a clipboard over my helmet in practice: “Deal with it.”

I can’t argue with that…and he is most certainly right. It’s unfortunate that we live in a litigious society where other people are so quick to sue those who have wronged them. A lawsuit nowadays seems like the appropriate response in the smallest of situations, and people never take into consideration that sometimes in life you just need to tested, and you need to experience things like this to become stronger. What bothered me before now makes me proud to say that I got my ass kicked, and got right back up. I didn’t whine, I didn’t complain, I didn’t make excuses…and I’m ready for another round.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I'm 22 goin on 12

For those of you who know me well and know my smell, you knew this blog would one day come. We are currently on the "Road to Wrestlemania," and with the big show being just days away, I see it only fit that I reflect on something that's had a big impact on me. My earliest memories of professional wrestling date back to when I was 5 years old. Although my parents were certain that it was something I would grow out of......I never did. I'm currently 22 years old and over the past 15 years I've rarely missed an episode of Monday Night Raw. I've never missed a wrestling show that has been within a close proximity to Minnesota. I am on the verge of attending my 13th live wrestling event. So long story short, I am about as into this stuff as you can get.

The one thing that really worries me about this blog is I fear that it will end up looking like a dissertation. When it comes to the things you're passionate about, you have a tendency to go on and on. I'm trying my best to keep this short, but it's not going to be easy. The last thing I want to do however, is turn this into a big "Rebuttal Blog." More than a lot of people don't like wrestling, and I've spent a good portion of my life defending wrestling, but I don't tend to do it anymore. If you don't like it, that's your MO, but my main goal in this writing is trying to explain my fascination with it.

When someone finds out that I'm really into wrestling, one of three things usually happens: Most frequently they roll their eyes, they say "I've never heard of it," or they try to spark up a conversation with me. Now in most cases, someone expressing interest in your interests is a cool thing because this gives you something to talk about. But this situation is a little different, because there's usually two kinds of people who wanna "talk wrasslin" with me that I cannot tolerate for too long. I have dubbed them to be: "The Attituders" or "The Detectives." The Attituders are those who briefly watched pro wrestling in their middle school and junior high years and tuned out then after, while the Detectives try to analyze every move in the ring and explain why this would never work in a real life situation. The highest form of conversation the Attituders can have with you is "Whatever happened to (insert wrestler here)" and they remember the Rock's catchphrases, but struggle to recall some of the great matches from this period. The Detectives just can't seem to get past the fact that matches are predetermined, so it's hard for them to get any entertainment value out of the product. Like I said earlier, people wanting to talk wrestling isn't always a good thing, and often makes me even more frustrated.

Now I understand that it's hard to look at professional wrestling from an abstract viewpoint because it appears to be a such dumbed-down form of entertainment. I mean the concept is a little ridiculous to begin with - here's two oiled up guys in small attire that are staging a fight. Who the hell ever thought of this? But what draws me to this realm of entertainment is that the storytelling is just so intricate and unique that it just grabs me. When I talk about storytelling, I'm not referring to a leprechaun midget being the Chairman's illegitimate bastard son. This is not the kind of story that captures my interest. It's the story and the art of two guys in a ring pretending to hurt each other without actually doing it. It's how they can walk down the aisle with only the finish in mind and improvise a 15 minute match. It's the facial expressions, it's the ability to elicit a reaction from the crowd, it's how they can communicate without words, it's how they can choreograph moves with perfect timing, and it's how they can create perceived competition. For 13-14 some odd years I've watched this stuff with my chin on a fist being absolutely mesmerized by it.

I don't like wrestling being called "fake," and it's not because it offends me, but because you wouldn't look at something like a movie a refer to it as "fake" - that would be absurd. There are however many elements of a movie that can be found inside the squared circle: You have morality conflict with good guys and bad guys, you have dilemnas, you have surprise, and you have controversy. And when you combine that with great athletes, in my estimation you've got the best of both worlds. A question often posed to me is "If all of this wrestling stuff is rigged, how do you know which guys are the best at their profession." I believe that a wrestler's talent is threefold, and if you gave each one of these categories a 10 point scale, the best wrestler would be a 30/30. If you look at the history of this business, every single wrestler who has ran with the ball for this company has at least scored a 10/10 in one of these categories. They are as follows:

The Look:
This is what the origins of this business were first predicated on - the circus mentality of "selling freaks." The idea is that you can't see physical specimens like this in your everyday life, so you're gonna have to pay a ticket to see them. This is what drew people to the shows, and it still does to this day. Image is huge in professional wrestling. In order to be marketable, you have to be tan, muscle-bound, and then there's the LC part of the equation where you have to complement your character with a great outfit. All of these components play an essential role in getting over. Watching wrestling on t.v. was honestly what first got me into weight lifting at such a young age. I never viewed wrestling as "guys walking around in their skimpies" as my roommates refer to it. To me, it was more like "Woah, I wanna look like that!" - being awe-inspired by all these muscular physiques.

There have been champions in this business who have coasted on "The Look" alone, but the number one problem with these wrestlers is they have no longevity because it is easy for their act to stagnate. It's kind of like looking at a hot girl - she can be fun to look at, but if she's got an empty head, I don't care who you are - eventually you're gonna get jaded out. Thankfully, the Lex Luger's, Psycho Sid's, and Bill Goldberg's of the world are slowly starting to fade out of wrestling. The company is starting to realize that the fans will not accept a wrestler who only has "The Look" - or else they would have bought a ticket to the Arnold Classic instead.

Cutting Promos:
Promos, or interviews, are another small piece that puts the wrestling puzzle together. This is usually the part of wrestling that draws a clear and distinct line between the people who love it and the people who think it's absolutely stupid. Either people will "get it" and laugh at characters that fill this show, or they will take it way too seriously and think they're too intelligent for the product. Some of time, I do see the nay-sayer's side of the argument. But most of the time I would have to say that if they watched an entire wrestling program and didn't laugh once - these people simply cannot be entertained.

Although some colorful controversy is fun to watch and has the ability to draw in a crowd, there's a certain part of "mic skills" that I cannot stand. What bothers me about this aspect of wrestling is that some people believe this is the ultimate standard for evaluating a WWE Superstar, and it's definitely not. Promos are similar to the "The Look" in the sense that their an additive, just an additional topping. If you disagree with this statement, then take a look at the current state of the business and compare a wrestler's skill set to his ability to connect with the fans. If you only watch this show for comedy, it boggles my mind why you ever got into wrestling in the first place, because there are a myriad of entertainment outlets out there. Go watch an episode of Entourage if you want to hear a bunch of one-liners - Ari and Drama got a million of them for ya.

In-Ring work:
This is the number one standard for gaining respect in this business. People don't care about what you look like or how well you speak if you can't get it done from bell-to-bell. If you have the additional skills, it adds to the strength of you character, but the two aforementioned qualities will never get you over in the long term. Wrestling fans want to watch great wrestling, because it's the only thing that makes this product unique.

I'm not a fan of John Cena's act. He is currently the figurehead of the WWE and although I feel he is in this position for all the wrong reasons, there's no arguing that he is good for business. He's mainstream, he's marketable, he talks the jive, but he definitely cannot awe you in the ring unless he has a great dance partner. Odds are if you've seen him wrestle once, you've seen all that he has. It disappoints me that the top guy in the WWE is somebody that I'm not a fan of, but I would like to talk about my Top 5 favorite people in wrestling today that I think make this company absolutely great.

5) Jim Ross:
-If there is ever a conceivable downside to attending an event like Wrestlemania, it's that you miss out on listening to the guy who essentially puts the entire story together. You wanna talk about guy that has been around and been apart of literally every significant piece of wrestling history, look no further than Jim Ross. His voice is plastered on all the companies greatest moments, and he's been a part of everything. I absolutely love listening to JR call a match, and in my estimation he's the greatest announcer of all time. Now when I talk about announcers, I'm not making this exclusive to wrestling - football, boxing, baseball, you name it - he's the best of the best. Wrestling is so unique in the sense that an announcer not only has to call the action, but he has to simultaneously implement the background story, interpret facial expressions, and use their clever wit to keep the viewers interested. Announcing wrestling is so fast paced, and JR has such an intelligent mind for the product.

He's honestly the primary person that inspired me to have a blog in the first place, because when he posts his weekly updates, it's the number one information source in the world of the marks. Because of his talent and experience, nobody's opinion is valued more. When you turn on the TV and you hear his voice, you know it's Monday night, you know you've got the right channel, and you know your on the right program. I hope he continues to do this for as long as he's able to, because it will be a sad day for me when I turn on Raw and can no longer listen to Good Ol' JR.

4) The Undertaker:
-You know you've got something special when no matter how many times someone has seen your act - it still gets over. We've seen his routine a million times: The lights go out, a slow and methodical walk to the ring, the eyes rolling back coordinated with thunder roaring over the speakers, and even though it's been played out again and again, there's no arguing that there's a greater ring entrance in the history of the business. I got to see it live for the first time last year in Detroit, and when that gong hit, the building absolutely flipped. Seeing him come out with the fire and druids ranks up there with one of the coolest things I've ever seen. The thing that I like about the Undertaker character is to me, he's the only thing that's really left of "old-school." He keeps a pretty low profile - you won't see him make a whole lot of appearances, he won't do interviews on WWE DVDs, he won't be at the Hall of Fame the night before, and he does it all to save face on his character. There's a certain element in wrestling today of "let's stop pulling the wool over, and treating our fans like idiots - like the characters we see aren't actually people in real life." But the Undertaker really takes pride in the mystique of his character, and doesn't sell that out so easy. I think it's for that reason that he's had more longevity at the top of this business than anyone else I can think of.

3) Edge:
-The history of the WWE has shown that it lives and dies with the characters who can be great bad guys - A great bad guy is the most important part of wrestling. You need to have a strong antagonist in order to create strong good guy. The more the fans want to see the bad guy get his, the more they buy the PPVs, the more they watch on TV, and ultimately the more revenue the wrestling business draws. It's a proven formula that has worked for many years, but the problem is the current state of wrestling doesn't have a whole lot of strong bad guys. Edge is currently the number one heel in wrestling, and in my opinion he's carrying the torch by himself. For the last 3-4 years, he's done a great job each and every night of getting everybody in arena to absolutely hate him. He's a man that has been described as having no weaknesses, and I'd say that it's hard to argue with that.

2) Shawn Michaels:
-He's a man of several nicknames: The Showstopper, The Headliner, The Main Event, The Heartbreak Kid. But even more than the ones listed previously, without a doubt my favorite Shawn Michaels nickname is Mr. Wrestlemania. You've heard JR say it time and time again that "Nobody's ever out-staged Shawn Michaels in a big time match" - and it's absolutely true. Even at his age of 42, I can't how many times in the past couple of years where I have been watching a bad Raw or a bad PPV and said, "Thank God HBK was here to save this show." He's the number one consistent guy in this company where you say, no matter what happens, Shawn Michaels is going to be fun to watch to tonight. And history will show, that at Wrestlemania, he's always turned it on big time. One of my favorite memories as a kid was going to door-to-door with my neighborhood friends, asking the people we lived next to if we could shovel their driveway, just to scrounge up enough money to watch Wrestlemania 12 where Shawn Michaels was taking on Bret Hart in a 60-minute Iron Man Match - it's still to this day, my favorite moment in wrestling history.

I always loved watching him as a kid, because I can't think of any other athlete or celebrity that just embodied "cool" like Shawn Michaels did. Everything he did was just flawless perfection, he was so athletic, so charismatic, and just so talented that how could you not want to be like him? I don't care how many times I here that "Sexy Boy" theme song, whenever I hear it, I am 12 years old again - the raving mark that just wants to be like Shawn Michaels.

1) Ric Flair
-I think it is so unfortunate that so many wrestling fans of my demographic look at a guy like Ric Flair and say, "Why does this guy still do this?" He's 59 years old, his physical skills have obviously declined, and his physique definitely won't be on the cover of Muscle and Fitness anytime soon. Most of the people my age have heard he's the "Kiss stealin, wheel-n-dealin', limousine ridin" wrestling legend, but I don't believe they know why he is all of those things. All they see is the person he is know, and not the person who's had those unbelievable matches in the 80's with Ricky Steamboat, Barry Windham, and Terry Funk. Not the person who's the greatest interview in the history of the business. They see that old guy who just won't hang it up.

Ric Flair was the longest running champion when the title actually meant something. I look at wrestling nowadays where there are so many damn belts that wrestlers don't even look like champions - they just look like guys holding belts. Ric Flair was the primary champion in the 80's in a wrestling organization that was called the NWA. I've had a lot of fun in the last couple of months re-visiting a lot of the old NWA stuff, because it had such a cool concept. Back in those days, the business wasn't yet monopolized, and there were 9 primary wrestling territories throughout the United States. The 9 wrestling promoters would all get together and vote on who the champion should be, and Ric Flair was usually the overwhelming favorite. The champion would go from territory to territory facing the top act from each promotion, and when the Champ came to town, it was always a big deal.

Flair's gimmick back then is that he would always be neck and neck with his opponent, do a 1 hour broadway, and just barely retain his title by the skin of his teeth. Flair did such a good job of playing the chicken shit heel. He was the guy who would poke you in the eye, give you a ball shot, and then be on his knees begging for mercy - a guy that you just had to hate. But the problem you run into, is that when you have a guy that is so good at the character he plays, the people can't help but cheer him. And that's subsequently what ended up happening.

Earlier I mentioned a scale that I believe is the best way to evaluate a wrestler's talent level, but in my estimation, there's only been one person in the history of the business that's been a perfect 30 - and that's The Nature Boy Ric Flair. He had the bleach-blond hair accompanied with either a diamond sequined robe or a $5,000 suit. He was such a character, and if you ever looking for some cheap entertainment, YouTube: "Ric Flair promos" and you'll be rolling on the floor laughing. And although he can't exactly pour it on now like he did back then, in his prime nobody cut a pace like he did. Hulk Hogan may be the most recognizable figure in pro wrestling, but Flair's the real deal. Although my personal favorite is Bret Hart, there's no doubting that Ric Flair is the all-time best.

And finally, this brings us to Wrestlemania - the biggest show of the entire year. Wrestlemania is a production where no expense is spared when in comes to advertising, lighting, pyros, and bringing in the celebrities (John Legend, Snoop Dogg, 50 cent, and Floyd Mayweather...just to name a few) because several thousands will be in attendance and millions will be watching around the world. For an entire year, everything thing they do as far as story and character development is culminated on this one night. It's about giving back to the fans who support this company by putting on the best show possible. It's about #1 facing #2, and this year we are even fortunate enough to have #3 vs. #4.

I'm very certain that Flair vs. Michaels will not be on last, but I am very certain that it will be the best match of the night. Collectively, these two guys will do what they've done best over the course of their careers: Make the fans scream for the loudest and the longest. There is much speculation that this WILL be Ric Flair's last match - and I am so fortunate to be able to see it live in person. A 35-year veteran who is the gold standard in this line of work will walk down the aisle and tear the house down one last time. Emotions will be running high, and in the wrasslin business, you wouldn't want it any other way. Wrestling has always been about eliciting emotion. It's about making you laugh, making you angry, putting a smile on your face, and when it all comes to an end for the best wrestler to ever live - there will most certainly be an emotional reaction from the fans as well. Because when everything in wrestling is supposed to be bullshit, that bullshit means everything to them, as it does to me. Not a single fan at this show will leave wishing they hadn't spent the money and wishing they hadn't made the trip. It's Wrestlemania, where everybody involved is 22 goin on 12 - that young kid turned mark who has a little part of them that doesn't ever wanna grow up.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

You'll never catch me in a Gucci suit...I'll be in my cowboy boots

I think it was either my mom or Ben Roller that once said: "It's not easy being a trend setter." It was never my intention to get everybody to follow my blogging ways...but coincidentally that is exactly what's happened. But instead of taking the Vince McMahon approach of having a longstanding policy of never acknowledging the competition, I have have read what the "Others" (nice Lost reference) have wrote, and have enjoyed them for the most part. I also think that what I have started to a certain extent is a good thing, because everybody should have the opportunity to express their thoughts and views on any particular subject while supplementing their own experiences.

I'm a big quote guy and whenever I hear a good one, I write it down. I have a notebook with pages stacked deep of ideas and quotes that I have accrued (great word) over the years. I usually keep these to myself instead of sharing every single saying/inside joke/funny moment on my Facebook wall that I see so often from my peers. But I will share this one with you because it ties in so well with the blog frenzy. One of my all-time favorites is from a renowned novelist named James A. Michener who states: "It is the moral obligation of every individual to put themselves through the process of chronicling their existence, regardless of the perceived value of their lives." I will write a book someday, in the meantime - this is just practice.

That not withstanding, I would like to welcome you back to the controversy that is blog nation. This isn't the place for flash and flare, and I'll never attest to having the greatest website appearance. Outside of being able to find the home row, I'm not too computer savvy. There was once a time where I had to have my roommate literally log in for me and show me how to post an update, but I've got that figured out now. And I've figured it out just in time to talk about my favorite flavor of music, or more specifically - The Best kind of music. Yee-Haw! - That's right...I said it. Why you ask? Well saddle up partner, I'll tell ya.

I do have to admit however that it hasn't always been about country for me. Throughout my life, I have been somewhat of chameleon when it comes to preferences in music. My earliest memories of music dates back to the first CD I ever received. At the time, I was an avid Dallas Cowboys fan, and none of the music on the radio ever interested me. To me, it was all about one album...and that was the hot new Deion Sanders CD with his tracks: "Prime Time Keeps Tickin" and "Must be the Money" - undoubtedly classics. The Jock Jams stage that I was in eventually allowed me to segue into the gangsta rap phase of life. My mother appeared to be a little skeptical when I casually slipped the Coolio CD into her shopping cart on a routine trip to Target. The parental advisory slogan was a big red flag but I assured her that "Gangsta's Paradise" didn't have a single curse word in it, so there's no way any of the other songs did either. I later found out (and I didn't know this at the time), but apparently they do this thing on the radio where they actually edit out all the bad parts of the song or else it wouldn't be able to reach the airwaves - sorry mom, my mistake.

Overall, I feel like I have faded out of this phase and I generally can't tolerate the vast majority of rap music nowadays. It's not because I fancy myself as a moralist, but mostly because I've become so stagnated (great word) with all of it. All they do is talk about how much shit they have - it just gets so old. I'd like somebody to come out with a rap song titled: "We're happy for you." I think it'd be a number one hit. C'mon you MC's, work with me, TRY to relate to me. Talk about things that I MIGHT experience on a daily basis. Maybe, just maybe, I'll start paying attention.

The other thing that discourages me about the rhymers nowadays is I've noticed a common trend of rifling the hooks from popular songs in order to create your own masterpiece. Cash still rules everything around me and 50 is telling Kanye to go ahead and switch the style up. And it's just a little disappointing because strong supporters of the rap game would argue that the one thing that sets it apart is that it exemplifies the highest level of lyrical creativity and improvisation. But all I'm hearing is the same thing over and over again - Are we running out of ideas? Let me give you another example - Mr. T-Pain "Buy you a drink," which I honestly consider to be great song, but I am now starting to realize why it is so good. Probably because the thing entire is composed of references. Let's count em:

"Snap yo fingers, and do your step" -Lil' Jon
"I got money in the bank" -Scrappy
"Walk it out" -Unk
"On the patrone, you should get like me" -Yung Joc

Now there very possibly could be more, I'm not a great rap mind. But apparently the formula for droppin a hot joint merely consists of stealing someone else's ideas and considering them your own. It's kinda like the way I tell jokes.

And if you think it's a race thing, no no no sir - that's not why rap music is not at the top of my charts. Because although country music is my number one, I do have a pecking order for my favorite genres: 1) Country, 2) Soul, 3) Rock and Roll. See numero 2 there...Soul baby! I think it was either Bobby Brown or Ben Franklin that once said: "Country and soul comes from the same place." I consider Soul to be my feel good music, and and I have the tendency to throw James Brown, Temptations, Sly and the Family Stone, Al Green, Bill Withers, and of course Stevie Wonder in the mix on occasion.

But when it all comes down to it, for me, Country music is by far running away with the number one spot and all the other genres are just little specs in the rear view mirror. Although I don't exactly have the statistics in front of me, I would argue that Country music is also the number preference in America. It's popularity is so widespread across so many different age groups that whether you're 10 years old or you're my grandma - you can get into it. And that is the only thing that every other genre has going against them: They can only relate to one static, clearly defined demographic. I can't relate to rap artists because I'm not a millionaire, I can't relate to punk music because I'm not a reject, and I can't relate to heavy metal because I'm not psychotic (I love you Patch). All of these genres collectively relate to maybe 1% of the entire U.S. population. Now however, that's not to say you cannot enjoy the sounds of these types of music, but if the vast majority of the people who listen to these genres think that the lyrics of these songs are a reflection of them, then you're fooling yourself.

Why wouldn't you want your music to be a reflection of you? I've always felt that the power of music transcends everything - to the point where two people could disagree on absolutely everything, but if they enjoy similar kinds of music, they'd get along just fine. Music can do that like nothing else can. When it comes down to me, I don't know what it's like to make it rain those hoes, I've never robbed the jewerly store and told them to make me some grillz, and I'm definitely not arrogant enough to think that people should be honored by my lateness (are you kidding me Kanye).

But conversely: Busting my back for every dollar that I make, Miscounting all the beers you drink, Going back to the feeling of the 50 yard line, Taking a girl down to river with a $6 bottle of wine, Being a fool trying to play it cool, Growing up too fast, Seeing coolers in the back with tailgates down, and Watching my friends as they make me laugh are those simple, feel good things in life that I and everybody else can relate to. Country music has always been about simple pleasures, simple songs, and simple messages. When you have all of that combined with a great sound, you've truly got a work of art. I've always felt that the greatest artists in general are those who can express their talent while simultaneously telling a great story. And that's the true essence of country music: Great musicians who are also great storytellers - unparalleled to any other genre, and that's what set's it apart.

Although there may not be too many We-Fest tickets remaining, there's plenty of room on the bandwagon so feel free to hop on. Join the rest us who share the common interest of "liking it Country." Meet us out in the outskirts, you'll see a big fire burning but don't be alarmed, it's just country boys and girls gettin down on the farm.

In closing, I would like to say that this is a blog that has been waiting in the bullpen for a while now, and it kind of received a forced finish. I have big plans for my next edition, I want to make sure everything on it is perfect before it's release in a couple of weeks. It covers a topic that means a great deal to me, and hopefully will help you understand what would cause a guy to wanna travel 1,500 miles to Orlando, Florida.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Valentine's Day Curse

It seems a little ironic that after what was undoubtedly the single worst month of my life (good riddance January), that I have to endure my least favorite holiday of the year. I've always hated Valentine's Day, and it's not because I've never had a serious girlfriend - or as I like to refer to it: I've never had a significant, significant other. It's because for whatever reason, I've had an unprecedented run on bad luck on this specific day, and bad things have always managed to happen to me. Cupid is not my friend - and one day I'd like to confront him and find out why he insists on making things so difficult for me on Valentine's Day. One of the great things I do have going for me however is I have an outstanding long term memory. The good Lord has blessed me with an exceptional ability to recall memories from my past with vivid detail and clarity. I see it only fit as we embark (great word) on "The day of love" that we recant some of my past experiences on a day that has shown no love for Jonny Nitro. Here is my history of February 14:

February 14th, 1997:
I was in 5th grade, and today was supposed to be a good day, because today was the annual Middle School trip to Skateland. Skateland was the cat's ass back in the day - whenever you have a combination of rollerblading, junk food, and arcade games, you couldn't go wrong. But somehow I did manage to go wrong, because this specific event was the day I officially started having a drinking problem. My drink of choice: All Sport. After consuming about 3 bottles too many, I commenced puking in the bathroom, and it in turn put me on the shelf for 2 days afterwards. This subsequently forced me to miss my traveling basketball tournament the same weekend. My violation of the substance abuse policy was played off by mom covering for me and simply telling the coach that I had been feeling ill. I do however feel that what happened to me on this day led to the demise of All Sport, and what ultimately made it the Chumbawamba of sports drinks.

February 14th, 1999:
I have never been a good skier. I do consider myself to be a decent athlete, but definitely not an exceptional one. But at the same time, I've always lived by the credo that "if it's a sport that doesn't involve shoes being on my feet, I cannot excel at it." Skiing is no exception, and this made me a little skeptical to partake (great word) on another Middle School field trip - this time around at Andes Tower Hills in Alexandria, MN. My apprehension had somewhat subsided after mastering the Bunny Hill, and I proceeded to shuffle on over to the Chairlift for some more exhilarating action. I should of quit while I was ahead when I successfully made the transition from the chair to the top of hill (which wasn't an easy task), but instead to decided to ski down anyway.

Now for those of you who are green the slope atmosphere, there are several different paths you can take once you get off the chairlift. Those paths are represented by colors, an unbeknownst to 7th grade me, those colors also represent level of difficulty. I probably would've had a little better judgment if I was with friends, but I was the last one to get my skis, and I didn't know where the hell they were. I do have to say that the Black one didn't look so bad initially, and I coasted along pretty good for about 30 feet. But the 30 foot distance was also ironically where my skis and poles last left me and I proceeded to tumble down twice the distance. I believe in the business they call that a "yard sale." A couple of older guys stopped to check on me, probably concerned that I was dead, but in actuality I was more embarrassed than hurt. I got up and walked down the rest of the hill - that was the end of my day, one and done. I scraped my face up pretty badly, and it ended up taking over a month to heal. If you look at my birthday pictures from that year (my birthday's in March by the way), it still looks as if I'd been mauled by a bear. I had to be subjected to answering "what happened to your face?" questions for a significant amount of time.

February 14th, 2002:
That little credo about shoes not being on my feet was just as prevalent this year as it was in the 7th grade ski disaster. This time around I was in Phy Ed class, and we had just started our ice skating unit. I'm about as graceful as a cow on ice. I've never been able to do a hockey stop, and often use the boards for stopping purposes. One of the main goals of a drill that we worked on in class was to enhance your ability to transfer from forward skating to backward skating. On my first attempt at the drill, I made my transition on a very slippery spot of the ice, and in a split second - WHAM! It felt like somebody had pulled the rug right underneath me, and I fell face first onto the ice. Now I've only been temporarily knocked out twice in my life: This incident and the other was pictured on the front of the sports page when I was a Senior in high school. I found it somewhat humorous that what was intended to be my shining moment, was portrayed as just the opposite (I would however like to mention that as bad as it looked, Cambridge's ball carrier #46 Garrett Anderson still went down!)

I heard some laughs at first, which is expected because nothing is funnier than someone slipping on ice, but those laughs were soon drowned out when I stood up with my face in a bloody mess. I felt my tongue around the top row of my teeth and noticed there was a vacancy, where my front tooth last was. I was at the dentist for the next 2 hours as he worked on re-attaching my severed tooth. To his credit, he did a great job because you can only tell it's been repaired from a very short distance. But because of what happened, I was forced to eat nothing but yogurt and applesauce for the rest of the week - Cupid strikes again. I have returned to realm of skiing since my accident, but never will I ever put on another pair of skates. In the modified words of Jerry Seinfeld: "I choose not to skate."

February 14th, 2004
It's funny how even some of the best memories you've ever had in your life still seem to be a little foggy, and you can't quite recall every detail. But the worst days you've ever had are unforgettable, and there's not a single component of that day that you can't remember. This was one of those days - the day I crashed my second car. Yes that's right my second car, wanna hear about my first?.....Ok fine I'll tell you. When I turned 16 my parents bought me my first car - a 1988 Honda Accord. It was a beauty, and it was honestly in great condition. Although it was 14 years old it only had 70,000 miles on it. The previous owner lived down the street from us, her name was Claudia and coincidentally since her name had 7 seven letters, she had it posted on her license plate as well. It's a two week process to get new plates, so I received some strange looks on the drive to school with a license plate that had "CLAUDIA" on it. Long story short, I got rear-ended by a guy that I used to play basketball with on a gravel road after we were shooting off fireworks (not what the police report says). Claudia had the car for 14 years, I had it for four months and totaled the shit out of it - I still think to this day she is upset with me.

But the good thing about this situation is
that this accident wasn't my fault, the second car however...different story. As I stated earlier, your worst memories are always the most crystal clear. The time was roughly 11:00 am, I was driving on Westmoor Drive near Village Green golf course, and Tom Petty's "Learning to Fly" was playing on the radio. Now to understand this story you need two little pieces of background information: #1 - I drove a Ford Focus for the majority of high school (is that funny...then stop laughing), #2 - My car doesn't have anti-lock brakes and is the absolute worst road vehicle during the winter - it's kind of like trying to steer an air hockey puck. I was coming around the curve, turning onto 30th Avenue. The only problem being is that when I turned the wheel, the car didn't turn with me, and I proceeded to go right into the curb at an angle. I'd tried putting the Focus in "R," then I tried putting it in "D," but the car just wouldn't budge - something was wrong. As I got out of the car I noticed that the front right wheel was pushed out of alignment, and the axle was visibly snapped underneath the vehicle.

So let's assess the situation: Here's a guy with a car that wont move, positioned in an area that's miles away from his house, in the middle of winter, who is currently living in the pre-cell phone era - I am the absolute definition of totally screwed. I can't think of too many times in my life where I've said to myself, "I don't what I would of done if that person would not of been there." Joe Emmerich I don't know where you are, but you saved me big time that day. He just happened to be driving his ugly purple Aztec down that same road. I didn't know him very well, but I knew him well enough for him to kindly give me a ride to my house so I could call a towing company. As you could assume, the old man wasn't too thrilled with me and informed me that I'd be working in the summer to pay it off - $1,200 later, which probably took me until mid-July, we were even. And that young grasshoppers is what I like to call: "Learning the hard way." But more than anything, this experience reminded me that Valentine's Day absolutely sucks.

To my recollection, that was the last of my disastrous February 14 stories, but there is something that's always bound to happen on this specific day that bothers me more than anything else. Ever since high school, and subsequently each year after that, this is the day where that girl from class, or that girl down the street, that I'm not interested in whatsoever tries to seize the day. It's usually in the form of a creepy letter, or a creepy Facebook message, or it one particular incident in high school a voice mail on our home phone which prompted my mother to call the police. I spent the afternoon being interrogated by a couple of officers in our living room - another Valentine's Day well spent. I can't remember the last time this hasn't happened. I'm not looking forward to added distraction of trying to avoid another person for the next couple of weeks.

In closing, I would like to say that I will be unreachable on the 14th of February. I won't be answering phone calls, and probably not even e-mails. I have two classes on that day, and once those are over I'm heading straight home and staying in the closed confines of my own apartment. This is the year in Red Sox fashion where I reverse the curse, because nothing bad can happen to me if I don't do anything......right??

Monday, January 14, 2008

Weight Lifting Etiquette

Well, this one was supposed to be about music...and that's a work in progress. The fitness center in our building is currently under construction - they are remodeling and re-painting the walls. Even though it would be easy for me to attain access to that area as an employee, the smell of the fumes is awful and I would fear having an 8th grade education by the end of the workout. So, for the first time in a long time, I took a trip over to the recreation center, or the U of M's RC if you will (oh wait, we've already coined "RC" as something else). This experience inspired a new writing and forced me to call an audible because there are some things I need to address.

Weight Lifting Etiquette: I honestly think that this should be a university class or at least weekend seminar. It should be similar to a firearms safety course in the sense that you need to obtain some kind of a certification in order to take part in that activity. From this point on, everybody that walks through the doors of the rec needs to show their U of M ID, and needs to show proof that they are "Weight Lifting Certified." A mere set of guidelines posted up on the wall isn't getting the job done. Far too many people have absolutely no idea what they're doing, a closed-circuit to that group of people: You can be spotted from a mile away, so stop trying to disguise it. From the way carry yourself, from the way you lift, and most specifically from the way you walk around a machine with that dumbfounded look on your face elicited by your inability to understand how to position yourself in that station or even try to figure out what it could possibly accomplish. It is so transparent.

This recent trip to the rec reminded me why I actually prefer to workout by myself, ideally in an area that is generally unoccupied. This is really the only thing in life that I consider to be my alone time, and where I don't want to be around people. A crowded recreational center is not only a nuisance, but a distraction. In actuality, the only real "etiquette" you need in an exercise facility can fit under the umbrella of "being respectful." But the people who can't grasp this concept are more than likely not disrespectful people, but are so green to the gym environment that they are oblivious to how they are interfering with others. I don't think my "etiquette" course will ever meet university approval, but I've included a list of guidelines in hopes that they will spur a call to action and make everybody's lives a lot easier:

1) Recognize marked territory:
-If someone has dumbbells on a bench or weight on a bar, clearly they are using that specific equipment. Things like that don't happen on accident - or in my case, I didn't accidentally put my workout log on a weight bench this afternoon so I could get a drink of water, only to come back and find out that some muscle-head rifled my station. I have no idea how you can be that naive/apathetic to just toss someone's shit to the side. Now however, I do realize that there are the 7 out of 10 who occasionally "forget" to put their things away, but this is a different situation. If you're unsure as to whether or not someone is occupying a machine, here is the proper way of finding out: "Ask." Pull the little buds out of your ears and ask people within a 5 foot radius if they are working in your desired area, it's not that much of an inconvenience. At least be considerate enough to entertain the idea that you're not the only one at the rec.

2) Don't do power cleans at the rec:
-I'm sorry, but your athletic career is over. And I know your athletic career is over because if you needed to be doing olympic lifts, you would be doing them at Bierman. You would be in a state-of-the-art facility with a conditioning specialist, and you wouldn't have to workout in the company of common folk. Power cleans are geared towards developing explosive SPORTS-specific power in the hips and legs - which you do not need. There is absolutely no physiological benefit of doing power cleans to the recreational lifter - none. So why do you keep doing them? Is the power clean the one element of nostalgia that brings you back to your yester-years? To images of you running out under the bright lights or circling the wrasslin mat in the old gymnasium? That's got to be it - it is astonishing to me how some people will be forever be high school heroes.

3) Don't draw attention to yourself:
-Now I'm not writing about this for the people who stack the plates on deep, because if you can manage the weight, by all means. But I'm referring to those who grunt, snort, spit, scream and do everything in their power to make you aware that they are there. If you have a great physique, people will take notice to it. We don't need the extra, so please shut the hell up. These are the same kind of people that more than likely lined their letterman's jacket with chevrons all the way down to the sleeve in high school - insecurity exemplified at the highest level. This isn't a bar, this isn't a mall, this isn't a social area of any kind, it's a freaking gym. Everybody that comes into the rec has one priority - themselves and their workout. All people are noticing is that you're ruining their day - we're not impressed with you.

4) Pick up after yourself:
-This is something you learn in kindergarden. The situation that irritates me the most is when people leave small 5, 10, and 25 pound plates all over the floor, because now I'm forced to pick up your mess or else I can't get anything accomplished. Funny, how people struggle to grasp what it's like from the other perspective. Be respectful and leave the place in the position you found it.

5) If you don't know what you're doing, for the love of God - ASK:
-This isn't something that bothers me and much as it concerns me for other's own welfare. There are a lot of people (I'd estimate over 50%) who couldn't even tell you which muscles/energy systems they are targeting during their workout, and I think this such a terrible thing. What worries me the most is people not doing the form properly - it honestly pains me to watch. Don't do squats up on your toes, don't roll your shoulders at the top if your shrugging, and please God don't under-stride when your lunging - you're gonna blow your knee out. These are things I see all the time, but it's not like I can just go up to somebody and correct them. The vast majority of people would interpret this as me being condescending, and the last thing I want to do offend somebody, so all can do is just shake my head in hopes that one day it will dawn on them. I saw an idiot the other day doing bench press with his hands spaced no further than shoulder width, and he was clearly lifting close to his 1-rep. And I'm thinking to myself, "This guy is going to be painfully sore tomorrow, and he is going to have no idea why."

I think the number one reason people don't workout is that they try it once, they hurt themselves, and then it's "screw this, I'm done." What people don't realize is that recreational centers, with the exception of the people that I've talked about previously, are honestly a very welcoming environment. Avid lifters would be more than willing to help the inexperienced if they just asked. In the cases for some people, it would probably make their day. There's also a reason that the rec prohibits sleeveless shirts - and it's not so the hoggers leave the machines all sweaty. It's because they don't want people to feel intimidated by those who exercise regularly. They want people to embrace the idea of being active, and it's hard to promote that when most times it's painfully obvious who's been working out and who hasn't.

I didn't create this blog to express the idea that I'm smart and everybody else is stupid - I think that's the biggest misconception, and why people get so stirred up all the time. I'm just a rational person who thinks rationally and wants everybody else to board the rational train with me - and most importantly this is my therapy. I could either spend the entire day thinking about that douchebag who was power cleaning at the rec (which shouldn't bother me, but it does and it festers), or I could blog about it, move on, and be done. That is why I do this, and hopefully I can entertain a few people in the process.

In closing, I would like to say Julie: I'm patiently waiting. I can't wait to see what the other half of Northstar has got brewing over there. But just remember to be careful. Although I don't get offended by much, I can dish it out just as good as I can take it..............that's what she said.