Thursday, July 31, 2008

Characters - Revisited

I wanna talk about character again. Not that intrinsic, motivational, golden rule kind, but the written, drawn, performed kind. This time I will not ascribe rankings to the greatness of television icons. It's been done. By me. Like, 3 weeks ago. Seriously, just scroll down and look.
No, this time, I will talk about my favorite characters of all time. From any media. I know everybody loves reading about my favorites, opinions and video games so why not continue the trend. Maybe one day, I'll have something more important to discuss other than books, TV, movies, video games and sports. Maybe music? But, until then, on with the show. These are my personal favorites. Characters who I've loved, enjoyed, followed forever, or just hit me the right way and stayed with me since. Most of these guys are representations of things I wish I was or could be(no matter how dichotomous the desires might be): wise or irreverently, negligently immature; powerful, strong-willed, charismatic or patient; blissfully-ignorant or brilliantly gifted, etc.

Here goes, in no particular order:

Conan of Cimmeria - The original sword and sorcery character created by Robert E. Howard, not the rip-off, dumbed-down media, Arnold version.
To quote: "I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content." Wow, deep.

Indiana Jones - I love history and I hate Nazis. This is a natural fit.

Edmond Dantes - From the The Count of Monte Cristo. He was the model 'revenge man,' dispatching his own, personal paybacks and justice to those who hurt him. Now, though, I think we learn more from his shortcomings.

The fictionalized Jerry from Seinfeld - The character was my emotional-growth hero for a long time. I think I'm such a cynical, apathetic misanthrope because of him. And, no, Jerry Seinfeld was not just playing himself. The exaggeration is what's so funny and cool.

The narrator from Wolf, by Jim Harrison. His destruction and fumbling through life hits close to home, but it's hard for me to act on the lessons he teaches me.

Dave Robicheaux - created by James Lee Burke. He's a man with a past who does his best to keep his demons at bay and walk a straight line. Even though I'm more like Clete Purcell, Dave's the real inspiration and the reason we kept reading.

Batman - A super-hero with no super-powers. He uses his brain and physical conditioning to not only defeat his enemies, but keep his all too powerful friends in check (I'm looking at you, Supes.) He's dark, moody, conflicted and with childhood issues. Definitely relatable.

Coach Hayden Fox, from the TV series Coach - A football coach man's man who eats steak, hunts, fishes, and lives by himself in a cabin in the woods. It is not that great of a show, but I own all the seasons they've released on DVD so far. A lot of that is my passion for fake football (note my other blog posts tracking my own "career") and desire to be left the hell alone sometimes.

Randall Graves, from the Kevin Smith films. He's shallow and irreverent and funny as fuck.

Peter Gibbons from Office Space. I, too, have a dream of doing nothing. This was a very inspirational tale.

Wolverine - Bad-ass. 'Nuff said, bub.

Tony Soprano - He's almost Shakespearean. I personally am not as confident or confrontational as he is, but then again, I don't have the family ties to back me up. And, in comparison to him, I'm definitely kind of a pussy. I think it's the power that draws us to him. It's why women fuck his ugly, fat-ass and why men envy him and want to follow him and be in his circle.

Han Solo - Star Wars. Intergalactic smuggler? What an awesome job! I bet that "price on my head" thing got him laid. Plus, he was still cool even after he went straight. Aerosmith couldn't even pull that off.

Ryu - Street Fighter series. "The ceremony means nothing to him, the fight is everything." He's a mysterious outsider who wanders the world and fights total strangers. He's an archetypal char cater in that Kung-Fu kind of way, and I think it's the mystery and violence that attracts me to him. He should be the winner in any movie version of this game.

Hank Hill - King of the Hill. Much like Dave Robicheaux, he's a straight-laced guy who I don't know if I have the will-power, patience, drive, etc. to be as collected as. And, Mike Judge's show is just clever and hilarious.

If I had to be one of these guys, the closest I could get would be Indiana Jones. I'd just have to get back in shape and go to grad school. Learn a few languages, take some boxing/martial arts lessons, and start traveling. But there's not a lot of Nazi's left. So, I guess I'd have to fight terrorists. Or, hipsters.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A New Season...a familiar feeling

Well, 2009 got off to a rocky start with a blowout loss on the road at USC. Journeyman's Vandals actually led 10-7 late in the 2nd, then the Trojans woke up. The final: 10-35. Hopefully next season I can start with an easy home game. What really sucks is there's another road game to UCLA mid-season. Oh well, at least we built some confidence by whipping Eastern Washington 66-10 in the home-opener and we look poised to challenge for the WAC title.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Big Boys and Bowling

Ace Journeyman's first season as head coach of the Idaho Vandals was capped with 2 losses against WAC front-runners Boise State and Hawai'i. We hung in with the Broncos, losing a close one 21-26 at home in the dome. The trip to Hawai'i was a flop as well, endng in a 26-31 loss that sounds closer than it actually was. The season officialy ended for Journeyman when the team was passed over for a bowl bid. They were barely eligible with a 6-6 record, and finishing 5th in the WAC didn't help either. No one was surprised at there being no post-season oppurtunity, but we're thrilled with meeting the 6-win goal and have a lot of positives to build on for '09.

2008 Recap:
6-6 (3-5 WAC)
at Arizona L 10-31
Idaho State W 49-14
Western Mich. W 13-6
at Utah State L 27-24 (OT)
at San Diego St. W 24-0
Nevada W 21-14
at Fresno St. L 14-17
at LA Tech W 39-32 (OT)
New Mexico St. L 31-38
San Jose St. W 42-17
Boise State L 21-27
at Hawai'i L 26-31

Monday, July 28, 2008

Books - The B-Sides

I created my favorite books list recently, but left off the books that almost made the cut. Now, I tried to limit it to one book per author on the final blog list last week, but here, I'm going to let it fly. So, the books that almost made it:

The Da Vinc... No, I'm just kidding.

Here's the real list:

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation - Joseph Ellis

Brown's Requium, The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy

The Amazng Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon

Friday Night Lights - H.G. Bissinger

Black Cherry Blues, In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead, Purple Cane Road - all by James Lee Burke

Thief of Always - Clive Barker

Redwall - Brian Jaques

The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson

Sundog, A Good Day to Die, Legends of the Fall, The Beast God Forgot to Invent - all by Jim Harrison

Batman: The Long Halloween (Jeph Loeb) and The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller)

The Home Stretch

Coach Journeyman has the Vandals sitting at 6-4 (3-3 WAC) heading into the last 2 games of the season. These games will not be easy. Idaho will be hosting the 7-1, #24 ranked Boise State Broncos in an the newest addition of the in-state rivalry. How sweet it would be to beat the Broncos! After that, Idaho travels to Hawai'i to take on the Warriors who are tied for second in the WAC. It'll be two really tough games, but at least we've already hit the 6-win mark that was our pre-season goal. But, 7 wins, knocking off one of these big boys, and a bowl bid would be awesome!

Winless in the WAC

Well, Ace Journeyman and the Idaho Vandals have picked up a few wins, but they were all of the non-conference variety. We blew out Idaho State in the home opener, edged the WMU Broncos in a defensive slug-fest, and went on the road in the rain and shut-out the San Diego State Aztecs. However, along the way, we lost in overtime, on the road, to the Utah State Aggies, the only conference game so far. Take into consideration that Utah State is a WAC bottom dweller, and it does not bode well for the Vandals the rest of the way. Maybe the dome will give us enough of an edge at home to split the rest of the season and get us to our 6-win goal. Keep up with Journeyman's Career on the Dynasty Tracker in the side-column to the right.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Don't judge a book by its cover - instead, listen to what I say about it

I finally read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road this week. It is a sweeping depiction of a post-apocalyptic world that truly made me cringe at points. By showing us the power we have to destroy the world, or survive the horrors that come to pass, McCarthy reveals that we truly have the power to change; the power to save the world. His style of prose lends itself to a quick read, and I highly recommend it. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

It also got me thinking about what other books I would consider my favorites. Therefore, after some thinking, listing, re-listing, paring down and revamping, I am now able to present my 20 favorite books. This will not be a traditional list like my others; it would be too hard for me to ascribe rankings to these books. They range from the entertaining to the life changing, the cheerful to the macabre. But, they all have one thing in common: I thought they kicked ass.

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
The first time I read this, I had to use a cheat sheet to keep everybody straight. The second time, I just wrote in the liners. It wasn’t until the third time I was able to read it sans crib notes. This novel is a powerful representation of the wrong man, revenge, retribution, and the decision on whether or not to be a better person despite your misfortunes. It spoke to me when I was a teen as a revenge tale about a guy who finally got everybody back. However, I now see it as a challenge to try to be better than Edmond Dantes and discover my own Haydee before it’s too late.

The Great Gatsby
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
When I read this in high school, I liked it. When I read it in my early 20’s, I loved it. We all know people who we fear could become like the unhappy souls in Gatsby’s world. If you have not read it since junior year, please, pick it up and appreciate it for what it really is.

Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse
An old guy that worked at a video store with me in middle Georgia bought me this book the summer before I started at UGA. I was reluctant to receive the gift, and even more reluctant to read it, but I’m better off for having done so. It inspired my own life, teaching me that experiences are nothing without the context of the journey.

Wolf: A False Memoir – Jim Harrison
This was one of the most powerful experiences I ever had reading a book. Maybe it was me, where I was at in life, whatever, but it changed me. Is the narrator searching for the wolf? Or, is he a wolf drying out in a world he created for himself, with circumstances he cannot change, against forces he has no power to fight? What happens to all of us? What happens to any of us?

The Watchmen – Alan Moore
If you think this shouldn’t count because it’s a graphic novel, than you’ll never understand the depth of Moore’s study of human nature and authority. It’s exclusionary, small-minded thinking from literary elites that begs the question: Who Watches the Watchmen?

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemmingway
I was once on a big Hemmingway kick, and this book capped it. To me, reading what the man was experiencing, living, even eating and drinking was more fascinating than anything any of his dreamt up characters did. I still love and revere his fiction, but the truth of the man is what draws me to this book.

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood – Janisse Ray
I’ve read this book twice. Once, it was a call from home; a representation of where I came from and where I would return to. I was much more privileged in my youth than Ray was, but we shared the same earth, and knew the same places and people. I appreciated the land around me, but she taught me to respect it and know it. The second time I read it, I had determined that I was never going home. Through this lens, Ray’s book validated my decision and my thoughts. My childhood met the same fate as the long leaf pines of which she writes, and there’s no reclaiming either. Home is home no more.

The Conan of Cimmeria Collection – Robert E. Howard
This is the complete collection of all the original Conan stories penned by Robert E. Howard. They were published in three parts over the last few years and are a treasure trove to any true Conan fan.

Confederates in the Attic – Tony Horwitz
This is the best dual-study of the Civil War I’ve read. There’s the war that destroyed this country in the 1860’s and the one that still rages today. Through Horwitz’s road trip, we find a truth in the study of the south that is often missed in texts and tomes: it’s the people, not the events, that shape us south’rons and our homeland.

Haunted – Chuck Palahniuk
Getting through the first story, “Guts”, took a bit of intestinal fortitude (pun intended). From that point on, I was hooked and flew through the other tales. The indictment of the reality TV, E-channel, attention-whoring world we live in really hooked me, and the gothic, Villa Diodati inspired structure is truly haunting (two’fer, baby!)

The Dixieland Delight Tour – Clay Travis
Travis’ romp through the SEC is a must-read for any college football fan.

Tin Roof Blowdown – James Lee Burke
This book is a haunting depiction of Hurricane Katrina and its effect on southern Louisiana both physically and spiritually. It is a powerful, brooding backdrop for another top-notch thriller featuring one of my all time favorite characters, Dave Robicheaux.

The Hank Thompson Trilogy – Charlie Houston
The tale of Hank Thompson is a wrong-man story taken to new, pulp-noir levels of edginess and excitement. Houston’s quick, terse prose speeds the journey along with great dialogue and dynamics that land somewhere between Sam Spade and Quentin Tarantino.

Clandestine – James Ellroy
This is the most personally powerful of Ellroy’s novels. I love the noir-thriller style of his writing and the characters that dwell in his dark world. This novel portrays the themes of torment and redemption we see in so many of the author’s works, but to a level that really struck me. The Black Dahlia is probably a better book, but this is MY favorites list. So, there.

America – Jon Stewart et al.
I love the Daily Show and I teach high school social studies. Why not combine them into one hilariously irreverent, satirical text on our nation’s history and government.

Wise Blood – Flannery O’Conner
As a southern-gothic novel written by a Catholic raised in the deep south, this book offers all the confusing, grotesque imagery you can imagine. I read it the first time when I was too young to really understand it thoroughly, but I was still able to relate to some of the more overt themes because of my own scattered youth and religious questions. Upon re-reading it later, at a more mature stage in life, it became even more powerful.

The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli
This was an assigned reading, but one I tore into and even used in several history, political science, and literature papers I wrote. The section on cruelty vs. mercy rings home, especially with my maturation and deeper understanding of what it means to be a citizen, or a member in a greater society.

His Excellency – Joseph Ellis
Ellis provides a deep character study of the Father of our Country in a thoughtful, accurate, and unbiased way. Getting closer to Washington’s experiences and points of view help everyday Americans more understand the founding of our nation and it’s infant years.

Dracula – Bram Stoker
I admit, I first tried to read this book when I was a kid who simply enjoyed ghost stories and vampires as an elementary schooler. Predictably, I didn’t get very far. Nevertheless, it always lingered, and I finished an abridged version when I was in 5th grade as the 1992 move was released. Well, my parents forbade me to watch the film for a while, due to it’s adult nature, and by the time I saw it two years later, I had read the real novel, but not actually understood everything. Finally, in high school, I re-read for a class and it finally clicked for me. This book has been an integral been part of my literary journey and it will definitely always be one of my faves.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

NCAA Football 09

I'm addicted to EA Sports College Football game. I've been playing some version of it since it was Bill Walsh's Football back in the early 90's. I buy the new addition every year as soon as it's available and dedicate a great deal of my free time to it. At least, I used to. I'm finding the last couple of years, my passion and playtime have dropped off. Maybe it's the loss of Create-A-School, a feature I loved and spent a lot of time with. Maybe I'm getting older. Whatever it is, I hope it doesn't eventually lead to me passing up the game, or giving up video games altogether.

Oh well. What I'm here to say is that, at least for this year, I'm back in the game and I will be tracking my Dynasty right here on my blog on the right hand side-bar. I have two dynasties going right now: The first is a straight-forward Georgia Dynasty that I had to start so I could see Knowshon and Matty-cakes in action (and obliterate Georgia Southern). The second dynasty will be the main one I play and update. It will feature a coach, Ace Journeyman (clever, huh?), and his journey to become one of the greatest coaches of all time. Ace's first job is at struggling Idaho. Does he have what it takes to turn the Vandals around? Will he one day move on to a bigger program, win national titles and become a legend? Or, will he fail to rebuild a poor program, and fade away into anonymity? We'll see...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Let's Look At The NFL

I definitely enjoy college football more than I enjoy the NFL. There just does not seem to be a much passion or drama in the pros. However, I do spend my Sundays watching the pros, and my weekdays watching ESPN and working my pro picks over. It's with this in mind that I give you my top-10 best teams in the NFL next season. Now, this is my opinion, and there are some disparities with the experts' polls, but I have as much right to throw my two cents out on the ol' interweb, too. There are some afterthoughts as well; enjoy.

1. New England Patriots
I'm not picking against them, now. What they need to do is lose early so they don't lay an egg when they eventually make it to the Super Bowl. I'd rather be 17-1 with the ring than 17-1 with the agony of losing to Eli Manning.

2. Indianapolis Colts
There's not as much talent around Peyton as there is around other star QB's, but I don't think Peyton needs it.

3. Dallas Cowboys
I was hard pressed not to go ahead and put them number 2. They'll be better than last year I think, and they'll need it to win the toughest division in the NFL.

4. San Diego Chargers
I hope they do not make me look foolish by believing in them to rebound from last year. C'mon LT, stay healthy and rack up record numbers.

5. New York Giants
I didn't feel they were a fluke last year, but I'm not jumping them ahead of the Cowboys for this preseason, either.

6. Jacksonville Jaguars
They will be a very good, very dangerous team in 2008. But good luck winning in Indy, and that'll be the deciding contest for the division.

7. Pittsburgh Steelers
I'm done counting the Steelers out. They might have a kick-ass bear of a schedule, but they're always tough and they should win their division. And once they get to the playoffs, all bets are off.

8. Seattle Seahawks
They'll win the division easy, but will have to stay relatively injury free to dominate beyond that. If they do stay healthy, though, look out.

9. Philadelphia Eagles
Please Donovan, stay healthy and play smart. If you do, Philly could revisit the glory of several seasons ago. Even without (and against, thanks to Asante Samuel) T.O.

10. New Orleans Saints
Disappointing a year ago, but they should bounce back. They're the team to beat in the soft NFC South, I like Drew Brees and the D's revamped.

Who would I rank last? That's easy:

32. Atlanta Falcons
This is my team, but my god, there are so many things wrong here. I don't even know where to start. Maybe they should try and get Brett Favre back.

Toughest Division? NFC East, followed by the AFC South

Softest? NFC South

Don't believe the hype - Cleveland Browns
A lot of people are saying they'll be a surprise, but look at the schedule. It's too tough, and they won't beat the Steelers for the division.

Who's a real surprise? - On a limb, I'll say the 49'ers. They were supposed to do it last year and failed. Maybe this is the season they'll improve. We'll see...

Monday, July 21, 2008

I'm Back (in the Saddle Again!) - NYC, Macon, and Absinthe

Well, I know I've been gone for a while, but a bit of travel is always good for the mind, body and soul. I hit up NYC for a week and the equally cosmopolitan Macon, GA. I saw some wonderful things, ate some great food, met some great people, and there was Macon, too. As a native of middle Georgia, I'm allowed to make that joke. So, I thought, in the spirit of lists and talking about my favorite things and preferences, I would make some lists from the trip.

In NYC, I stayed with KTL and the Librarian. KTL's a working man, but the Librarian volunteered her duties as a tour guide. I'm very grateful to them and can never repay them for their kindness. I was a full-time client and they never let up showing me a good time. Thanks, guys. Oh yeah, KTL is a damn fine driver, too. I hope he keeps his GA plate so as to surprise all the locals.


10. Bar Reis
It's great to feel like a regular in a place you've never been

9. The Hayden Planetarium at AMNH
The universe is a mystery, but one we must occupy. And a visit to the Rose Center and a trip around the Hayden Sphere will give you some insight into to all the cosmic goings on around us. You really see how everything compares to everything in time and scale. It's impressive.

8. Murakami at the Brooklyn Museum
This was an afterthought to my trip, but I'm glad I went, and the more time that goes by, the more important it becomes to me. His work is at times tentative, at others lively, but always amazing.

7. Soup Dumplings at Joe's Shanghai Restaurant (Chinatown)
Oh man, these were great. They're amazing little dumplings with soup inside and they're apparently pretty popular. The place is always busy and if you don't have a big enough crowd, you'll be sharing a table with strangers. Which turned out great for me, because everyone we sat with was polite, welcoming, and open to conversation. The only problem was that 3 of them attended Florida (boo). Seriously though, go for the dumplings, enjoy the conversations.

6. Brunch at Tom's Restaurant
I loved the service, staff, owner, atmosphere, options...I cannot do it justice. Just check out the reviews.

5. Sixpoint Craft Ales (Brooklyn)
I had never tried a beer from this brewery before this trip, but I am so glad I corrected that! I was only able to try 2 different beers (sweet action and brownstone) and both were delicious. This is not to take anything away from Brooklyn Brewery, but I had just never heard of Sixpoint before and was happy to sample the fare. Cheers to the many pubs and bars who keep this and other local crafts on tap regularly.

4. Antiquities at the Met
I'm a history nerd, so seeing these things from the dawn of civilization is awe-inspiring and in some ways, very rewarding. I always feel a bit guilty when I see things like this because I feel like I'm not living up to the level of life promised by the ingenuity, invention, art, and power of ancient civilizations. But, I guess we can't all change the world or secure the world for progeny or build lasting monuments for humanity. Oh well. I bet I could beat Nebuchadnezzar's best artist, architect or soldier in a game of NCAA 09 on my xBox 360.

3. Seeing In the Heights
Before this, I would have said (and did) that I was not a musical person. I was wrong. I see why this won all the awards it did. It's a must see.

2. Blind Tiger Ale House (Bleecker St.)
I love to check a good beer bar off my list when I can and I was hoping to use the trip to NYC to hit several. Well, I only hit 2 that rank highly on the lists and polls, and this was the one I enjoyed the most. I was fortunate enough to stumble into a Victory Brewery (which is one of my faves) event and was able to sample a rare V-12 keg. Wowzers! The locals were open to conversation and passing out pointers on other pubs to hit. The staff is very knowledgeable and the selection is great. Even the food's top notch pub fare. Cheers!

1. All the people
Everyone I met was not just hospitable or pleasant, they were genuinely nice. KTL and the Librarian have chosen some wonderful people to surround themselves with. From bartenders to bowlers to Bible-kids there wasn't a rough spot in the bunch. Even the strangers I ran across were great. You know where new Yorkers are rude? Movies from the 80's and the minds of people who never leave whatever small town they live in. The rudest New Yorker I know has got to be KTL himself. Now, I know there have to some rude people there (hell, there's 8 million folks, some body's gotta be a douche) but they're easily avoidable. I wish that could be said about the ATH or the south in general anymore.

Things I'm Hating On:

10. Nobody cares about College Football up there.
Bunch of Savages in that town.

9. The Librarian's constant nagging
This one's mainly for fun. I enjoy picking on her and she loves me for it. She's a bit controlling, but she never made a bad decision. I bitched about almost every change of venue or shift in plans, but enjoyed most everything we did.

8. The woman with the bike at the Bastille Day fair
You know who you are. Get a clue. Also, the little kid kicking sand out of the Petanque court. Douche.

7. Pickled vegetables (especially when touted as awesome)
Pickled vegetables are not terrible. But they are not great, either. I don't even like it when my people pickle things; I generally avoid the pickled section of soul food buffets. So, I do not think I need to embrace other cultures' pickled vegetables. Pickled watermelon rine or pickled cabbage? Neither. You hear me, Librarian? Cook some meat.

6. Not enough time
Too much to see. I always hate leaving NYC.

5. Hipsters
Please, stop it. Hipsters have dulled the edge of every fad they've embraced. They're pretentious, annoying, intolerant, and just plain terrible; a blight on the land. I thought the hipsters-Lite we had in ATH were bad, but no. The are nothing in comparison. I really think KTL is about two weeks away from going all Batman on Williamsburg and sweeping all the tight cardigans and fixed-gear bikes off the streets.

4. Idiots at Museums
It's 2008 and people still don't know not to use flash photography on the world's most precious and important art? Seriously? We saw a girl propping up on a statue and two idiots leaning against a painting for a photo-op. Free Fridays at MoMA really brings out the knuckle-draggers, huh?

3. Duk Boki with cheese at Bon Chon
Traditional Korean rice noodle dish, but covered with cheese. Hey, I like cheese and i enjoyed dukboki the times I tried it before, but I do not recommend them together. In the future, keep 'em separated. Also, apparently, don't go to the Bon Chon in Manhattan, hit the one in Queens instead.

2. The chairs at Church! of Park Slope
The church service was great, even to someone whose not so religious, like me. And, the people there are welcoming and non-judgemental. But, as it's a smaller church renting out a gym, they need easily storable and stackable chairs. That equals small and light. As a larger than average individual, I was worried that I might absolutely destroy the one in which I sat. Hallelujah, though, I made it through the service and the chair made it back on the rack. The Lord works in mysterious ways, indeed.

1. Sitting on the plane for 4 hours before we even took off!
Fuck this! It was god-awful. We boarded the plane and moved 1o feet every 15 minutes. It was hot and cramped and they never really told us what was going on. But, there were storms in ATL and in NYC and planes got backed up at Hartsfield-Jackson for hours. Oh, the perils of air travel.

As far as the weekend in Macon, I had a blast. It was good to see an old friend, meet a new one, have some deep conversations and debates (I got lawyered several times), drink beer and play Rock Band. Oh yeah, we quoted the hell out of Seinfeld. The only bad thing about it was the drive. I hate the span of road from ATH to Madison. Oh, and I drank Absinthe for the first time. Who would have thought that what have happened in Macon and not New York.? It tastes like a black liquorice liqueur and provides a softer, more euphoric buzz. Pretty cool. But I think the O-Bombs definitely took over before the night was out.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

More Television, or: "Character is something you have left when you've lost everything you can lose." (- Evan Esar)

In the continuing spirit of the previous few posts, I'm going to make another pop-culture oriented list. This time, I'll be exploring the heart and soul of television programming: characters. I've decided to list the 25 characters who symbolize their show, who bring/brought something special to TV, and actually represent something important, if not to our society/culture, than at least to the area of television. Sometimes, though, I just went with a great, well-loved character. I also tried to limit myself to one character from a show. So, that's why the main character/star of a particular show might not be included over a different, more intriguing, character. Some of these are classic and some of these are questionable, but, at the end of the day, they're my opinions. If you do not agree, post your own list and let's get some dialogue going, otherwise, enjoy! Also, many of these characters are not from shows that I particularly enjoy or watch at all, but I do recognize their relevance and importance to television. So, don't expect a lot of future blog-time spent on Sex and the City, Buffy, 24, or Star Trek. I get them, and can appreciate the writing/acting/impact/whatever, but they're just not my jam. Without further ado, the list:

Top 25 TV Characters:

25. Spock – Star Trek

The alien intellect that balanced out the human emotion of a 5-year journey where no man had gone before.

24. Al Bundy – Married…with Children

Edgy and questionable at the time, he’s become a bit of an icon now. Though he seemed to hate his eponymous lifestyle, he was still, at the end of the day, a good husband and father.

23. Lowell Mather – Wings

Usually, I wouldn’t use such a static character, but you gotta love Lowell. He was the warm and fuzzy side of Sandpiper Air and we needed what he provided.

22. Lindsay Weir – Freaks and Geeks

As both a Freak and a Geek, Lindsay really was the backbone of this show, even if Sam, Neal and Bill were the heart and soul.

21. Maggie O’Connell – Northern Exposure

Coulda went with Fleischman, or Maurice, or Ed, or any of the wonderful residents of Sicily, AK, but Maggie seemed to be the most constant. She was well rounded and dynamic with enough real-world traits to balance out the quirkiness of all the dead ex’s.

20. John Dorian – Scrubs

This is a perfect example of choosing one element of certain dynamics or gimmicks used in a show. It’s kind of like cheating. By choosing JD, I get to include, through his relationships with them, the wonderful characters of Christopher Turk and Perry Cox. It’s a three-for-one. Nice.

19. Dale Cooper – Twin Peaks

The whole mystery unfolded for us through his eyes, and as a bonus, he loved pie. He was the un-tarnishable innocence surviving in the oddity that was Twin Peaks. The law and order in the surreal chaos that comes with David Lynch.

18. Michael Bluth – Arrested Development

The tireless straight man for his entire family of eccentric, yet loveable odd-balls. You just have to love this show.

17. Jack Bauer – 24

A classic badass for US television in the age of the War on Terror.

16. Will Smith - Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Man I used to love this show! Will was delightfully funny and served as the down-to-earth grounding force for his well-to-do extended family. From the trite and clich├ęd to the hip and hilarious, Will could do it all in smooth, sit-com style.

15. Hawkeye Pierce – M*A*S*H

A troublemaker, a slacker, a patriot and a protester. MASH was retro, but the opposite of Happy Days. It looked to the past so we could better understand the present, with Korea as a stand-in for Vietnam, and Hawkeye as our focus point.

14. Arthur Fozerelli – Happy Days

Classic cool. A 70’s retro show looking fondly back at the 50’s? You gotta have a greaser.

13. Barney Fife – The Andy Griffith Show

Barny Fuckin’ Fife. ‘Nuff said.

12. Carrie Bradshaw – Sex in the City

The center of the storm that opened our eyes and minds to the plight of single women in big cities. Not one of my shows, but I saw the impact this show had all around me. Every girl I knew in college was a fan, and it really seemed to change the way people looked at sexuality in single women.

11. Jim Halpert – The Office

Another cheat. Jim seems to be our lens into the world of Dunder-Mifflin and by choosing him, we get to include Dwight K. Schrute (the Jim-Dwight dynamic is one of the best in TV history), Pam Beasley, and Michael Scott. All great characters that should be considered on any list like this.

10. Jack Tripper – Three’s Company

The meat in the sandwich of the all time sit-y-est of sit-coms. Jack Tripper is THE sit-com character king.

9. Buffy – Buffy

Buffy was not, as too many believe, 90210 with vampires. On the contrary, it is a well-written and performed deeply probing look at existence itself. Just look at all the academic studies that have been done; more than have been dedicated to any other TV shows. Or, it’s just a hot chick killing vampires. It wasn’t really one of my faves, but the more time that passes, the more important it gets. We must remember, it was pushing boundaries and busting paradigms before The Sopranos.

8. Chandler Bing – Friends

Of all the friends, we probably learned the least from Chandler, but damn he was funny. He created a new style of humor that resonated with young people the country over. Ah, deadpan sarcasm. There’s nothing better.

7. Homer Simpson – The Simpsons

The longest-lived sitcom father, ever. While not originally the star, as The Simpsons evolved so did Homer’s character and role in the show. Without Homer, there would not only be no Peter Griffin, we would most likely have missed all the dull-witted, slovenly sitcom dads since. Homer built the archetype.

6. Frasier Crane – Cheers, Frasier

20 years on two different shows? He must’ve been doing something right.

5. Heathcliff Huxtable – The Cosby Show

Maybe not the most popular, grumpiest, funniest or longest-lived sit-com dad, but he was probably the best father. As the patriarch of the Huxtable clan, Cliff is the symbol of everything that this truly great show stood for.

4. Al Swearengen – Deadwood

Probably shouldn’t be this high, but he’s scary enough for me to just go ahead and put him in the top 5, anyway. He’s not as iconic as Tony Soprano, but probably just as powerful, and the old west setting makes him even nastier. Ian Mcshane’s role was the driving force of the Deadwood series and there was always something charismatic about him even though he was a murderous, whore-mongering, violent and vicious criminal and businessman.

3. Archie Bunker – All in the Family

As the irritable, bigoted, and intolerant family man, Archie Bunker represented the urban, working-class white middle-aged male of the time. Through him we see that people of different times aren’t bad, just left behind by a world they’re uncomfortable with changing around them. On top of this, his relationships and reactions to those around him were both hilarious and eye-opening. He’s a standard bearer of American television.

2. Tony Soprano – The Sopranos

Does this even need to be explained?

1. George Costanza - Seinfeld

The biggest cheat of all. Through George, the “short, stocky, slow-witted bald man,” we get the rest of the ‘New York 4’: Jerry, Elaine and Kramer. They’re all great and list-worthy, but George is the epitome of what Seinfeld was going for. On close inspection we find he really, actually is, a terrible person, but we love him and identify with him at the same time. He is the greatest character in TV history.

In the running: Lucy Ricardo, Zach Morris, Alex P. Keaton, Ralph Kramden, J.R. Ewing, Fox Mulder

On the Rise: Jack Donaghy, Joy (Hickey) Turner, Barney Stinson, Eric Taylor, Peter Griffin

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A New Day...A New List

Entertainment Weekly's List Issue is a great inspiration for discussions about what is good, great, important, relevant, etc. And, one of the lists they created was the best TV shows of the last 25 years. They counted all types of shows in all types of formats, but the one I want to explore more in depth is just straight-up sitcoms. I mean 30-minute, live-action American sitcoms. I'm not trying to exclude some great one-hour shows, animated masterpieces, or British sensations, I just want to focus on the classic American, sitcom style. So, here goes, the greatest sitcoms (according to the aforementioned criteria) in the last 25 years:

10. How I Met Your Mother (2005 -)
It's a new show, relative to the time frame of this list, but it's funny as hell. The cast is great and they do some really unique and clever things. I love the flashbacks inside of flashbacks, Slapsgiving, and almost everything about the character of Barney. The over-arching theme, finding the mother of Ted's children, often takes a backseat, though and it might just be a little too unconventional to retain the viewers needed to stay around a long time. But, it's a great show and deserves a chance to run it's natural course.

9. Cheers* (1982 - 1993)
*This show technically should not count due to its pre-1983 start date, but fuck it, I make the rules here and this is one I'm comfortable bending. I was very young when the show debuted, so the first few seasons come to me more clearly as re-runs in syndication. But, I've always kind of felt that you don't get a real feel for a sitcom until syndication anyway. It's not one of my top-10 favorite shows, but I do recognize it's overarching effect on American TV and it is undeniably entertaining. It's also home to some of TV's most memorable characters: Norm, Sam Malone, the long-lived Frasier Crane. It also worked well in all incarnations: with coach, with Diane, and with Rebbecca. And, let's not forget the classic theme song.

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000 -)
I was hesitant to include this show since it airs on HBO, and, as such, is able to push some boundaries that other, network-bound shows, cannot, but it's just too good to leave off. Larry David is the genius that brought us Seinfeld, and in Curb, he's able to take his misanthropic approach to comedic social-commentary to an entirely new level. The supporting cast is great, and the over-arching story lines create a solid frame that the clever, individual episodes flesh out. It's definitely the L.A. to Seinfeld's New York.

7. Everybody Loves Raymond (1996 - 2005)
A lot of folks say this is a classic sitcom, but I beg to differ. A classic sitcom is Father Knows Best. ELR is 'Father Knows Worst' gimmickry at it's finest. Throw in the stress of in-laws and extended family and you might think that this show is one big cliche. But, somehow, it all works. Ray always screws up, Robert always mopes and moans, Deborah's feisty and Marie is overbearing and we still want more. To quote Paul Rudd in 40 Year-Old Virgin: "It's just a good show."

6. The Office ( 2005 -)
It's a mockumentary, a satire, and an adaptation of an existing British show, but somehow it feels original every time. At first, it was inferior to the clever, Ricky Gervais-led original, but as time wore on, it became great in its own right and now, I think, surpasses it's predecessor. Michael Scott is the most unsympathetic sympathetic character on TV, and the Dwight-Jim dynamic is fantastic. Every supporting character is unique, with lives and characteristics of their own that we see flashes of, instead of static, undeveloped, human scenery or sounding boards. The writing is top notch and the cast might be the best on television.

5. Arrested Development (2003 - 2006)
This could be the greatest, canceled-after-3-seasons TV show of all time. It is one of the most creative series I can remember, combining so many odd-fitting, awkward, and genuinely lovable characters in one place, it's hard to keep straight how they're all related. Now that I think about it, it seems they had trouble remembering that too sometimes. Jason Bateman and Michael Cera work as co-straightmen to the antics of the other Bluths and sub-Bluths, each of whom is a character study in itself. Throw in the narration, the story lines, and the performances, and you have a damn near-perfect TV show that America was too simple minded to grasp, appreciate or keep on the air. Too bad.

4. Friends (1994 - 2004)
Not until thinking back on this show recently did I realize the cultural impact it had. Haircuts, catchphrases, coffee, and lamination all owe a nod of recognition to this show about young, post-college friends that mature together into real adulthood in NYC. Some of the characters seem stock (the dumb guy, the ditsy hippie, the spoiled prep), but the actors breathed a lot of life into these archetypes. The chemistry among the cast is some of the best we've ever seen and I think a lot of people my age owe certain aspects of their senses of humor to one Mr. Chandler Bing.

3. The Cosby Show (1984 - 1992)
This show has been credited with saving the sitcom genre and reviving NBC in the 80's. It's also one of the original shows to be based on a comic's routine, which opened the door for many shows to come. Most importantly, though, the show was about family. Cliff and Claire were model parents, dealing with their children's discretions and deviations in stride and with love. It didn't take a Brady Bunch approach to family life, though. Beginning with the pilot episode, where we see Cliff shoot down Theo's future life plans, we see that this show will be a different beast. Bill Cosby is hilarious and had a wealth of material to begin with, but without the rest of the cast this show would not have become as great as it did. From Russell, to the Huxtable kids, to Olivia, the show had something for everyone and still makes you feel good just watching an episode or two.

2. Frasier (1993 - 2004)
This show is the most-successful spin-off of all time and is where we really get to see Frasier Crane (Cheers) fleshed out. It is a better show than it's predecessor, but that could be the difference between 80's television and 90's television more than anything. It's often considered the "smartest" sitcom, but don't think it's an elitist, erudite, snob (even if Frasier and Niles are). Characters like Marty, Roz, and Daphne keep the show grounded so that there is something for everybody. I believe it's won the most Emmys of any sitcom, and deservedly so. There are long-running gags, brief comedic, almost Vaudevillian snippets, witty banter and physical comedy. And, on a good day, they all meshed into an almost perfect television show. While the British voted Frasier the best sitcom ever, this is an American list, so it will stay at no. 2, because my no. 1 is...

1. Seinfeld (1989 - 1998)
...yada, yada, yada...

Missed the cut:

Undeclared, King of Queens, Two and a Half Men, Mad About You

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

In theYear 2000...In the YEAR 2000!

Entertainment Weekly recently had an issue dedicated to lists concerning pop-culture in the last 25 years, which prompted a discussion between me and Jinx to come up with our own lists for the best films since 1983. Now, we deliberated for a while and managed to hobble together a couple of lists, but they were iffy at best since my sobriety was definitely in question. All this led me to come up with a new list concept: Best Films This Century. That's right. What are the 25 best movies to be released since 2000? That's what I'm going to discuss. I want to see lists from some of my blogging-buddies as well. The challenge is on, Jinx and KTL. Commence to Listin'!

Here is my list:

25. Batman Begins

24. Superbad

23. Requiem for a Dream

22. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

21. Casino Royale

20. American Splendor

19. Napoleon Dynamite

18. The Incredibles

17. Little Miss Sunshine

16. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou

15. About Schmidt

14. Shaun of the Dead

13. Gladiator

12. There Will Be Blood

11. Old Boy

10. Spiderman 2

9. Lost in Translation

8. The Bourne Series

7. Fahrenheit 9/11

6. Brokeback Mountain

5. 40 Year Old Virgin

4. No Country For Old Men

3. Memento

2. The Departed

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Almost Made It: I'm Not There; Grindhouse; Sideways; Donnie Darko; Moulin Rouge

Just for extra fun, here are some of my favorite performances of recent memory:

Daniel Day Lewis - There Will Be Blood; Gangs of New York
Heath Ledger - Brokeback Mountain; I'm Not There
Jack Nicholson - About Schmidt
Steve Carell - 40 YOV; Litte Miss Sunshine
Daniel Craig's James Bond
Phillip Seymor Hoffman - Capote
The Departed and I'm Not There - The entire cast
Cate Blanchett in absolutely anything

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Number Four, or "Again From the Top (with Soul, Daddy-O)"

As an infamously un-famous denizen of the ATH, I feel it's my responsibility to weigh in on a topic in which I carry some weight: Food. Especially that of the Southern/Country/Soul variety. In the last month or so, I've dined at most of the known soul food places in town, and feel I should share my knowledge.

Food For the Soul's Buffet
(ABH/Caleb Raynor/Staff)

Weaver D's -

Famous for an endorsement from REM a billion years ago, this seems to be the place that gets the most attention. When I moved to ATH years ago, I ate at Weaver D's and was thoroughly impressed. However, as the years went by, the quality seemed to fall off, all the way to the point that I stopped eating there several years ago. Well, I went back this summer and I'm glad I did. I don't know if I've changed, or if the restaurant actually got back to it's old self, but the food seemed back on track. The portions are satisfying, but the service is questionable. All the articles and attention over the years must have gone to Dexter's head, because he finished up a lengthy phone conversation before he took our orders and was short/border-line rude during the transaction. The food tasted fine, but there's definitely better fried chicken in town. The sides were on par with some of the best around, though. If you're in ATH and hungry for soul food, Weaver D's is worth the trip, especially if you're new to town/visiting and want to have the "Automatic foe the People" experience. However, if you're local and have eaten there before, pass on the landmark and opt for the better food offered right down Broad Street.

Peaches Fine Foods-
Peaches claims to be the "Best in the South," and I don't think they're too far off. They have the best Fried Chicken and corn bread in town, and the sides are top-notch. It's a cafeteria style, meat and 2 veg's set-up, but they have an all-you-can-eat option available. The variety on any given day is limited, but they manage to bring in some distinct options over the course of a week. The smothered chicken and the pork chops are worth ordering, but don't be tempted by the ribs; there's better elsewhere. Also, get there early. They're open from about 11 to 2, but sometimes they run out of food early and just don't cook anymore. The service is usually pretty good, but I've encountered some dead zones between 1 and 2. If you have one place to go in ATH, I'd recommend Peaches. It's better than Weaver D's, but get there before 1 for an optimal experience.

Wilson's -
I think Wilson's has been here just as long as Weaver D's, and I wish REM had chosen to give them the nod over Dexter's place. Wilson's fried chicken is almost as good as Peaches, but they offer a better selection of sides. It's the same meat/2-3 veg set-up that's standard in most of the other places, but it's location makes it stand out a little. It's right downtown on Hull Street and it's a great lunch to cap a day of shopping or begin an afternoon out. I've heard the sides are vegetarian, if that appeals to you. It doesn't matter to me as long as they taste good, and they definitely do. Everyone's usually very nice, and the breads and sweet tea are top-notch. Overall, it's a very solid addition to the southern/soul/country food scene in town. There's nothing bad to say about the place, but they're not necessarily the best at anything, either. It's straight up down home.

*** Weaver D's, Peaches, and Wilson's all run in the $7-$10 range. Peaches A-Y-C-E is around $12, though.

Food for the Soul: Soul Food -
This is probably my favorite place in town to catch a southern lunch. It's biggest draw? Buffet, Baby! Whatever they have, you can try. No strict 1 meat/2 side rule, and the a-y-c-e is reasonably priced at $9. They have a delicious Thursday treat, too: fried chicken livers. One down side is that the corn bread is nigh on terrible, but who needs it when you have some of the best fried and baked chicken, pork chops, and sides to choose from. Oh, the sides: many to choose from and all tasty. It's completely self serve and includes a dessert, something that costs extra at most places in town. For the variety and bang for your buck, this is the place I would recommend anytime. I try to eat there at least once a week, whereas Peaches and Wilson's are more like once a month. Also, if you're a late sleeper, this place is great because they're open to 5, and keep the food hot and fresh.

Chonell's ("Home Cooking", not "Plus Bar and Grill")-
Unfortunately, to me, Chonell's is more of an afterthought when it comes to southern food in ATH. It's tucked away in the old Kroger shopping center and you have to pass Peaches and Food for the Soul to get there. The counter is set up away from the entrance which can make ordering confusing, and the service is always (at least when I've eaten there) questionable to say the least. It's a standard meat/2 veg operation, drinks are extra, and lunch runs a little high at $8-$9. Stay away from the fried chicken here, it's bland and dry, which is disappointing since it's my personal fave and a staple to judge southern cuisine by. The sides I've had were equally unremarkable, and the corn bread's not great either. The Meatloaf is surprisingly good, however, and some of the sides I didn't order looked tasty enough. The tea is sweet and strong, but don't drink it too fast, because you might be waiting a while to get more. I would honestly say to pass this place by on your way to better restaurants closer to downtown.

Jewel's Buffet-
I feel bad discussing this place here because I definitely caught it at a weird time, but I'll include it none the less. First, 2 things that I like about this place are that it's a buffet and it's cheap ($9) for a-y-c-e. However, I got there late (about 1) and it looked like the food had been out since 11. The restaurant is in a large space, but it feels cavernous when you're the only customer. Jewel's is a relatively new place, but it's location seems to detract from it's business as the only other customers I saw came in as I was leaving. The food was not bad, despite it's appearance in the warmers, but you could tell that it was not fresh. One big draw was the ribs, which were still good, and the steak and gravy. The sides were questionable to say the least. The Mac-n-Cheese had congealed into an almost impenetrable shell of fried cheddar and the beans were greasy from sitting there all day. It's a self-serve, with good tea, decent bread, ad includes dessert. However, I left the dessert alone as it too appeared to have seen fresher times. If you try Jewel's, please go early (11-12) so you can give it a fair chance.

Downhome Cooking-
I remember when DH Cooking was out on Danielsville road in a large place with a big buffet and a lot of patrons. Then it moved, then it disappeared, and now it's re-incarnated into a meat/2-veg southern restaurant combo'd with Riverwheel Ice Cream parlor. The process for ordering is tricky at first, as all the outside signs proclaim "All You Can Eat", but once inside, you're told that there is no a-y-c-e, but you can order what you want beyond the m/2-v, but you'll pay for what you order. To avoid confusion, just stick to the standard format. The baked chicken is very good, and the sauteed okra is delicious (though it looks a little primordial ooze-y). There's a large, rural feeling, blue-collar, lunch crowd that adds to the down homeyness of it, and the employees are welcoming. The tea is good, and I think maybe dessert is included (that, or either we stole it). If you're out by Athens Tech, stop in for lunch, or pop-in for a tasty pick-up dinner in the early afternoon.

And, in the spirit of lists and rankings, here's my preference poll:
1. Food for the Soul
2. Peaches
3. Wilson's
4. Weaver D's
5. Downhome Cooking
6. Jewel's
7. Chonell's

Don't Waste Your Time:

Plantation Buffet- I really do not like this place. The food's the weakest around and there's some serious racial undertones. That's really all I want to say here. I usually try it every summer, but I just can't do it anymore.

Don't Believe the Hype (Too "Church'd Up" for my tastes):
Neither of these places has bad food necessarily (some of it's actually good), but they're not southern, down-home, soul food joints, either. I see what both places are going for, but I don't want my soul food to be served with beer or wine, or my chicken to be cinnamon-chipotle. This is just me, though. If you disagree, well, put it on your blog.

Five Star Day -
If you're a sorority girl from Marietta that wants to pretend to eat soul food, then allow yourself to be fooled by their claim to be "gourmet soul." If you want real soul, eat at any of the places listed above. If you want suburban Atlanta-infected, yuppy recipes, eat at 5SD. If you do eat here, avoid the hypocrisy and stick to brunch.

Mama's Boy - Good food, some creative recipes, but still a bit much for "Southern" dining. The breakfast is good, but beyond that, you're flirting with that not quite soul food border. For lunch, you're still better off at any place above. Your wallet will thank you, too.