Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Cool Eye for the Square Guy

First of all let me make it clear, I am not having a mid-life crisis. There will be no sports car purchased, nor any running away to a tropical island to paint lovely native girls in varying stages of undress. The reason for my special tutoring on how to be cool revolves around the sheer volume of time I spend around young people. I have a teenage girl living in my house as well as a will-be-a-teenager-entirely-too-soon girl and an eight year old boy. My job has me surrounded by 600 or so fifth and sixth graders. Working for the Legend basketball team also has me with guys (choke, gasp) twenty years younger than I. Because of all this I decided to enlist the help of one of those Legend players to give me a make-over enabling me to infiltrate the ranks of the young and cool. Framecio Little was kind enough to mentor me.
The khaki Dockers and polo shirt had to go. I needed “fresh gear” if I was to cross-over to the cool side. First I needed a bright white t-shirt. The shirt is not supposed to have any printing on it and it should be quite large on the person. The depressing part was the size of shirt required to hang down low over the decidedly middle-aged paunch I had accumulated over my forty some years of existence. Framecio said I should wear denim shorts with the white shirt. Holy cow, I had those in my closet already. I’m cooler than I thought I was. The final touch for looking the part was to get my “feetwork right.” That means shoes. The problem was I would have to sell my car in order to afford the “J’s” or “Ones” required. For the uninitiated in the audience those are styles of shoes endorsed by Michael Jordan. If you make Jordan paychecks than Jordan shoes are not a problem. However, most of us do not make Michael Jordan money. We fall more into the tax bracket of the guys who put Michael Jordan’s actual shoes back into his locker at the country club after giving them a good shine.
Young and cool also means gadgets need to be a part of my day-to-day life. However, the latest video games are more complex than the United States tax code written in Aramaic. I do have a cell phone, but I do not know how to use it other than the basics. “Texting” is beyond me. I have a friend (who constantly reminds me he is a full decade younger than I) capable of texting faster than I can talk. He flips open his latest version phone, which is as thick as a slice of lunch meat, and his thumbs fly over the keys like the feet of that Riverdance guy.
One gadget I have is an iPod. I have the simplest version possible, but I do have one. I asked Framecio which musicians I needed to load to be considered up to date. He proceeded to list four rappers with names as familiar to a middle aged white guy from western Kansas as list of existential philosophers of the late 19th century would be to, well, would be to anyone. The fact that I have some Ray Charles on my iPod gave me a glimmer of coolness. My mentor said older rhythm and blues is termed “getting your grown man on” and I am nothing if not a grown man.
The slang of today seems to have been developed by the same people who write the advertising copy for detergent. “Fresh” and “clean” are current terms. A phrase used to compliment someone on something would be: “Them clean right there.” (with apologies to the grammarians in the audience) A great car has been sweet, cool, even cherry. Now you would be driving a “clean whip” if you had the best car in the neighborhood. The car I drive would not only not be sweet, cool, or cherry, the term “clean” would not be used in any sense of the word. The French fries on the floor of the back seat would require carbon dating to figure out how long they have been there.
Okay, I am now ready. I have on my “fresh gear.” I’m carrying a cell phone and my iPod is playing some Young Jezzy. My “feetwork” are “clean.” My “pockets are right” (which means I have money to spend). Also, my “clean whip” is gassed and ready to roll. The problem is I am just going to the grocery store to replenish my supply of antacids.

Christopher Pyle is now so “clean” and “fresh” his wife has him hanging from the rearview mirror in the minivan instead of one of those cardboard evergreen trees.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

For some fifteen minutes of fame is too much

Maybe I am missing something. Are famous people really that much more special than the rest of us? I have met a few big time famous people. Maybe ‘met’ is too strong a term. I worked at a bookstore in Santa Monica and sold stuff to some big time famous people. George Carlin, Goldie Hawn, Rick Springfield (well he was famous at the time), and Dick Van Dyke were customers of mine. I didn’t really talk to them, beyond “That will be fifteen dollars and seventy-eight cents, please.” Each was polite. They didn’t expect special treatment because they were stars. Each person was quite normal. There was no ethereal glow emanating from their eyes and extremities. I did not hear music playing as they approached the cash register. They behaved like normal folks so I treated them like normal people.
I bring this up because there was a major ripple of excitement in Dodge City. A star of epic proportion was sighted in the area. This person has had a major impact on movies, on literature, on television. This person has cast a massive shadow (I am resisting a fat joke at this moment) over the entire nation and its culture. Am I talking about a person who has written a novel of such humanity and depth it has touched a generation? Am I talking about a person who invented a new format for television which revolutionized the art form? Nope. Oprah was in southwest Kansas!
The visit was reported in this very paper. What did they report? They reported what she ate. Her first visit was to Clark Pharmacy in Cimarron where she had a root beer float and shared an orange smoothie with her friend. Do I really need to know what she had? On the other hand, by reporting what she had it proved she had not done her homework. I lived in Cimarron for ten years. I loved going to Clark’s. The thing to order is a “black and white.” This concoction of ice cream, chocolate syrup and marshmallow stuff is actually good enough to cause the one consuming it to attain a beatific state akin to a Buddhist getting to end of the Eight Fold Path and becoming one with the universe. Okay, I exaggerate just a bit. However, I do believe one hot day in July I ate a large “black and white” and heard an astral choir as I slipped into a blissful sugar stupor.
Being famous seems to guarantee people will care what happens to you, but it does not guarantee what a famous person does should be made public. For example, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s every breath must be photographed and sent to every media outlet in the world. I have nothing against either of these people. They do seem to have a greater amount of social consciousness than many movie star types. Can you picture Jessica Simpson trying to help fight hunger in third world countries? Actually, Jessica Simpson identifying third world countries on a globe is difficult to envision. Back to Jolie and Pitt, they recently had a baby. Lots of people have babies, heck, my wife and I have had three of them. But then we are not rich and famous. I know if I was a filthy rich individual with resources and opportunities galore I would choose to have my baby in Namibia. Everyone knows if Johns Hopkins University Hospital and Beth Israel Medical Center is not handy flying to a small West African country sandwiched between the Namib and Kalahari Deserts is the next best thing. After being sure they had their child in the most reasonable environment they could arrange they proceeded to name the little helpless girl Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt.
It may be necessary to get Congress involved in order to stop the senseless brutality that is celebrities naming their own children. We have Courtney Cox and David Arquette naming their daughter Coco. Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband named their first child Apple and the most recent one Moses. Geri Halliwell, who barely counts as a famous person since she is a former Spice Girl, named her daughter Bluebell. I’m sorry but that is the name for the milk cow in a Little House on the Prairie story not a baby girl who has to live with it for the rest of her life. The scariest thing about this concept may revolve around the most reasonable name given by a pop culture icon. A baby boy was named Sean, a strong name without connotations which bring to mind fruit, cows, or breakfast cereal. This name was given by Britney Spears. It may be a sign of the apocalypse when she is the voice of reason.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Everything may be for sale

I didn't write a column last week and I am placing this one on the blog late. This one appeared May 31st in the Dodge Globe.

Money makes the world go around. I hate to rain on the parade of the more optimistic readers out there who may think love makes the world go around, but I have yet to find a store clerk who would allow me to have a soda and a candy bar in exchange for a hug. (You should see some of the reactions I have gotten attempting to find the clerk who would let me.) Affection may give one a warm feeling in one’s heart, but it takes a buck fifty to buy the Tums to cure that warm feeling so one can get to sleep.
Since I have worked in the education field for many years I have at times tried to get students to put forth more effort by pointing out that an education can lead to more money. There are many extensively researched studies showing the more education a person has the more earning power he has over the course of his life. This has backfired on me. After I have given my powerful speech outlining how the level of education allows one to have a career which gives a person the wherewithal to live a life with choices and luxury a student asks me what my educational background is. I proudly tell him I have three college degrees, two undergraduate and one master’s degree. The student then points out the window to the staff parking lot and asks why I am driving a 16 year old two door Escort with a tire that requires airing up every third day.
Everybody seems to desire more money than they have at the moment. Individuals usually have to do pretty normal stuff to earn extra money, getting a second job, having a garage sale, or offering a kidney on E-bay. I have a new idea. Big time corporations spend millions if not billions of dollars each year to advertise their products. A commercial during the Super Bowl costs more than the gross national product for most third world countries. If the people who make Snickers bars would be willing to pay me a hundred dollars a month I would gladly tell everyone I meet on the street that “Snickers really satisfies.” Granted it would not reach as many people as a commercial during Will and Grace but it might reach more than a commercial during Jake in Progress and it would cost the company a heck of a lot less.
Whenever a sports team moves into a new stadium they sell the naming rights for the stadium to a corporation for huge sums of money. I prefer things the old way. It was much more macho for a football team to play in Soldier Field. Just how manly can Lance Berkman feel playing baseball in Minute Maid Park? I still think the field in Heinz Stadium should have a 57 yard line. But I digress. Individuals should have this opportunity to augment their income. When a young couple is expecting their first child it is not only an exciting time in their lives but it can also put a huge strain on their finances. Here is my idea. When the stork delivers the little bundle of joy she is not named after Grandma or the favorite aunt but the birth announcement would read like this: Mr. and Mrs. John Smith wish to announce the birth of their daughter Mazda Smith – an infant with the soul of a sports car.
It is not only individuals who are feeling the crunch of financial shortfalls. Governments are not getting the revenue they need and raising taxes only ticks people off. Let’s have Kansas fund the education needs for the state in creative ways, by selling out to corporate America. It could very well work. Take the state seal off of the flag and replace it with a Nike swoosh. Ditch “Ad Astra Per Aspera” and make “Think Outside the Bun” the state motto. The Meadowlark is replaced by the AFLAC duck as the state bird. The state amphibian is the GEICO gecko (I can’t believe we have a state amphibian anyway). I like “Home on the Range” but Bob Seger singing “Like a Rock” would sell a few more trucks and pay for the highways they drive on. I may be ahead of my time here. But, you’ll be sorry when Missouri becomes the Great state of Microsoft and stops having property tax, income tax, and sales tax. The Arch in St. Louis is called the Bill Gatesway to the West and the football team in Columbia becomes the Fighting Search Engines.