Monday, November 30, 2009

I hate my parents

While reading this, many of you will think, “My God, Daniel is such a whiner. All he seems to do is bitch about stupid shit that doesn’t even matter.” Perhaps you are right, but that is the nature of a rant. It would be less fun to write (and possibly read) about all the wonderful things in life and everything that makes me happy. Maybe I will make an effort in the future to write about those things that bring me joy, but right now I am bitching so enjoy.

I did some volunteer work at the Boys and Girls Club of Larimer County some weeks ago, and I was astonished at the facilities there. It was a good-sized building with several different rooms. It had a large gym (the staple of all B&G Clubs, I imagine), large foyer with plenty of tables and chairs and booths and a ping-pong table and several foosball tables, a nice big art room with all kinds of supplies, a computer lab with ultra-modern computers, a “teen room” with a pool table and a big screen tv and nice couches, and - here the kicker - A RECORDING STUDIO!! No joke. A fucking recording studio. Of course, it isn’t exactly Electric Ladyland or Abby Road, but still there’s some real expensive equipment in there. There’s a 32 track console and a computer with pro tools, several electric guitars and basses, a piano, a set of congas (Not bongos, congas, and they looked nice), and a decent electronic drum kit that usually runs at least a couple grand. And no rooms were highly restricted. In fact, no room was restricted at all, with the exception of the “teen room” - you had to be at least thirteen to go in there. If a child and wanted to go in the recording studio and play with the drums they could. They didn’t have to ask permission. They were not limited to five minutes. No one was breathing down their neck telling them they were hitting the drums too hard. It was a beautiful thing.

All the children - and there were 30-40 of them and ranging from 6-18 years - were watched over by a team of volunteers. A couple of peeps looked like volunteering may have been part of a community service sentence, but most were older and seemed like they loved children and genuinely cared for them. Also, the Food Bank of Larimer County serves everyone free meals at 5pm everyday. And these aren’t shitty meals, either, like a huge batch of cheap ramen noodles or mac and cheese. These meals were great meals and very nutritious. The day I was there they served a plate of grilled chicken breast, mashed potatoes, a salad and an apple with milk to drink. Not to overstate it, but that is a good solid meal, unlike the shit on a shingle I was served nearly every day at the Azle cafeterias that dripped with grease. **
To be fair the Boys and Girls Club is separate from the schools. It obviously has a strong relationship with the school district, but is a separate entity. The schools could be serving the same shit I once ate, but considering the affluence of this town I highly doubt it.

Which brings me to my point: I hate my parents.†† The most recent reason for this is because they raised me in Azle, Texas. Azle goddamned Texas. Azle. Texas. Think of it: you have the entire world at your disposal, you can pick anywhere in the world to live and you choose Azle, Texas. Now it’s one thing to live somewhere as individuals; if you want to while away your years in a cesspool that’s your business, but when you bring children into the world that’s a game changer. If you’re any kind of responsible parent you have to ask yourself “Where do I want my children to spend their formative years? What kind of environment should I raise them in? What kind of people or culture do I want them surrounded by? What quality of education do I want them to receive?” My parents never asked themselves these questions. The only question they asked themselves is “What’s the cheapest?” I know this because they told me. I asked both of them separately why they decided to settle down in that lovely town and make it their home and mine, and both responded with “It was cheap.” And it wasn’t even like I was the result of some drunken brawl and a busted condom. My parents claim they tried for years to have children, so I wasn’t an unexpected surprise. This had been in their minds for some time.

To be honest, I didn’t even live in Azle. Shit, I wished I was lucky enough to live in Azle. I would have been closer to friends and fast food joints, and my commute to school everyday wouldn’t have been so long. Instead we lived in some nether region way out in the fucking boondocks that was nearly a half hour from everywhere (everywhere being Azle, Springtown, or Weatherford).

I imagine a good number of you reading this are from Azle like me. However, you may have grown to love our little hometown as opposed to resent it like I do. And you are thinking “Hey man, what’s wrong with Azle? Seems fine to me.” I’ll admit that I never traveled much as a child. Sure we took the occasional summer trip to some national or state park (usually in Colorado, interestingly enough) where we would spend a week or two freezing in a tent, but for the most part Azle was all I knew. I would have said the same thing a few years ago: Azle seems fine to me. What’s the big deal? It wasn’t until I moved away from Azle that I began to see things a bit more objectively. I began to see things from a different angle and under a different light.

So what’s wrong with Azle? In a word, everything. That’s right. I said it. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that my entire ideology and worldview (very left-leaning and atheistic) is very much opposed to the dominant culture of Azle and generally most of Texas, THERE WAS NOTHING TO FUCKING DO!! Nothing. Not a goddamned thing. Let’s see . . . you could do meth or beat your wife and kids, which explains why it was so rampant ‘round those parts. I can see now why high school football games are so popular in small towns and rural areas. You wanna know what I did most days? I watched TV and got fat. There was quite literally nothing else to do. My parents didn’t seem to care. They never told me to watch less or eat less, hell, they were right there with me most of the time. I remember when those cheapskates got me the shittiest drum set ever when I was 15. It was horrible. I think it was $39.99 at Wal-Mart or Sam’s, but I didn’t care it was something to do, and by god I did it. I played those damn things everyday after school until everyone came home and told me to cool it because Friends was about to come on.

Another thing wrong with Azle was the school system. It was bad. It had hardly any money, so the teachers that were hired had basically given up on life. I recall one or two in my career that I thought were quality teachers and that I had actually learned something from, but by and large they were terrible. I believe the Texas Education Agency ranks schools on a 1-5 scale based on TAKS (aka TAAS when I was there) scores - 1 being a very poor education and 5 being a very good education. Each level has labels like “Excellent” or “Recognized” but I forget exactly what they are. Anyway, I think we were something like a 2 for most of my tenure and one year we got a 3 and it was trumpeted to the skies. “Yay!! We’re mediocre! Take that Springtown!”

In addition, Azle did not have a Boys and Girls Club as fantastic as the aforementioned. In fact, they did not have one at all. Instead, my parents paid several hundred dollars a month for “After School Care” which usually consisted of a woman watching a handful of kids in the cafeteria for three hours after school everyday. Again, nothing to do really except your homework because you were in the fucking cafeteria. I never got a hot freshly-cooked meal there but I did get an ice cream bar everyday that contributed to my obesity. If I had lived in Fort Collins I could have been playing the drums or painting or burning calories in the gym or something infinitely more exciting than being in the school cafeteria that smelled like old cafeteria ladies and awful food. And to top it all off, my parents would have spent next to nothing for this luxury - Boys and Girls Club membership is $5/year.

Let me also add a few perks that Fort Collins has (and it’s not exclusive to FoCo, many other cities and towns have similar perks and niceties as well): free bikes (you read that right - and nice new ones, too, not cheap or rusty ones, mass transit that is free to most FoCo residents, nice bike trails, something cool going on nearly every weekend downtown, free or really cheap concerts sponsored by the city (artists you‘ve heard of, too, like Sugar Ray, Lifehouse, Shawn Colvin, Melissa Ethridge, and others), kick ass fireworks for the 4th, awesome parks and recreation facilities . . . I could go on. Not to mention a mountain-filled landscape.

I think I’ve waxed on enough about how crappy Azle is. No need to beat a dead horse. Besides, I’m over it. I’m sure I offended some people in the process. My whole point, really, is just to get you to think about your own future. Neither of my parents were very fond of Azle in particular or Texas in general. My father always dreamed of having a cabin in the mountains away from everything. My mother would have preferred a big cultural city like New York or San Francisco. They contemplated the “what ifs” and dreamed of what could have been, and yet they worked jobs they hated and stayed in Azle. And why? Because it was familiar? Because it was cheap? I want anyone reading this to ask yourself what you really want from life. What do you want to experience on this earth in what I believe is the one and only life you have? Take a risk. Make a change. If not for yourself then perhaps for your children.

**On a side note, the food at Azle was a fucking joke. It’s funny how in classes you might learn about the four food groups or the food pyramid or nutrition, but in the cafeteria your choices are limited to greasy godawful pizza or fried chicken strips or cheese burgers. A salad bar did exist, but it was pathetic. It had warm iceberg lettuce, a few fixins like sunflower seeds or black olives and dressing that was so godamned runny that you might as well pour straight water on your pitiful excuse for a salad (a salad, by the way, that would likely cost you 4 or 5 dollars, but if you went with the greasy pizza it was usually under 1 dollar). Coke machines lined all the hallways. And the worst foods were always the cheapest. I remember getting double-decker oatmeal cream pies or double-decker chocolate fudge pies for a measly 50 cents. If you were to ask an administrator why the food was so crummy I imagine the reply would be “Not enough money in the budget.” Of course, there is always plenty of money in the budget for athletics, especially football, but that is the subject of another rant.

†† At this time I would like to point out that I don’t actually hate my parents. I really do love them and I’m quite certain they love me, too. I would also like to point out that I had a pretty decent childhood. I was never abused emotionally, physically (well almost never), or sexually. My parents were somewhat educated and made a decent enough wage to raise a couple of kids on. They were not junkies or alkies, nor starved for drama, sex, or attention. It’s just that as I age the mistakes that my parents made with myself and my sister become increasingly clearer, and I just want to rant about some of them. Is that alright?? Sheesh.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Here's the thing about Lady Gaga

Here’s the thing about Lady Gaga . . .

I did not really know who this bitch was until a few months ago. I think I saw a music video of her on mtvU while flipping around one bored day. I don’t know the title, but within it was the line “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick, disco stick.” I wasn’t real impressed with the music or the video. The song wasn’t particularly catchy and the lyrics and video were overtly sexual. “How original,” I thought. “Just like nearly every dance pop song.”

The next time I remember seeing her was on the VMAs. She went all out on her live performance. It is even hard to describe, but it was definitely an elaborate set up. Everything was white and I believe at some point there was some swinging from the rafters. Lady Gaga was emoting dramatically (possibly overly so), and toward the end all the white costumes and props were covered in a bloody mess. She was singing the song “Paparazzi” which is just a godawful song. I was impressed with all her theatrics, but I figured the whole show was to make up for how horrible her song was (again, much like any pop song: style over substance). But I saw something this week that made me think twice.

I was listening to Slate’s Culture Gabfest as I do every week while planting some Arabidopsis seeds at work. Their first topic was that of Lady Gaga and what a cultural zeitgeist she is or is about to become. How she was a brilliant visionary and a perspicacious observer of pop culture. They held up as Exhibit A her new video “Bad Romance.” They claimed the video was a shrewd critique of society and consumerism in America. Stephen Metcalf (who kind of plays the curmudgeon because he dislikes almost everything) said “I think I am in love.” I was intensely skeptical for two reasons. 1) Because I have heard her songs and seen her perform and was not moved. And 2) because every time I hear some overeducated white person (especially the Gabfest peeps) recommend music I want to shoot myself. 95% of the time it is some obscure indie soft-rock bullshit made up of other overeducated WASPs that I cannot fucking stand, and the other 5% of the time it’s a half ironic, half I-don’t-want-to-be-exactly-like-every-other-white-person faux infatuation of someone like Taylor Swift or Lil Wayne or Brad Paisley. I’m sorry but that kind of pretentiousness makes me go a big rubbery one.

Anyway, back to my story. After a minute of all this fawning I had to see the video for myself. When I hit play I was a skeptic, but by then end I was a believer. The video was ridiculous, excessive, and fantastic. I’m not even going to try to describe it other than to say it was bizarre, and very well made. The director, Francis Lawrence, is a seasoned director who knows how to make every frame count. And whoever dreamed up that whole sequence is on drugs, but I’ll give them props for creating a pop video that is at once both intensely sexual and very dark - Troy Patterson from Slate described it as Stanley Kubrick meets Paris fashion and I can’t disagree. I can see a little David Lynch in there as well. Lady Gaga was also great in the video. You could tell this idea was not being forced on her solely for the purpose of generating “buzz.” She was eating it up. It was perfect for her.

The song was not really that great, although if you watch the video enough like I did little snippets will get stuck in your brain for hours. I am beginning to think that she is not even that interested in the music aspect of her career. Instead, judging from this video and her VMA performance, it seems to me like music is simply her vehicle for creating her own visual art - it is merely one color on her canvas. I think it could very well be interpreted as a critique on society, on celeb addiction, on any kind of toxic relationship, really, real or metaphorical, although I’m not sure if LG deserves all the credit for that. However, I do think she is the Madonna of this generation.

So if you haven’t seen it yet, here is the video. It’s worth a watch.