Thursday, November 18, 2010

Letter of Introduction

Dear Dale,

You probably don’t know me.  In all likelihood that’s because I just made you up.  But it doesn’t really matter since I know you.  In fact, seeing as I invented you, I’m sure I know you better than you know yourself.  Regardless, all of that is neither here nor there.  What is important is why I am writing to you, a character of my own conception, and the answer is simple: I don’t want to not write to somebody.  You see, after several years’ existence as a struggling writer with limited exposure, I’ve finally caved to my cravings for consumption and elected to hurtle myself headlong into that endlessly opined compendium, The Blogosphere (my third favorite sphere after Tropo- and Western Hemi-).
Here’s where you come in.  While my very presence amidst the tangled ranks of unfettered internettery implies a medium of public consumption, I in no way shape or form deem myself qualified to address the public at large.  I rather like the public, when it’s not doing things like voting for Tea Party candidates or making Two and a Half Men the number one comedy in America, but do I feel entitled to its ear?  Hellz no!  Besides which, I find the public can be rather fickle in its ideologies and frenzied in its reactions, so I just don’t see it in my best interests to command such an overwhelming attention.
Now I suppose given my hesitance toward untargeted editorial, I could have seen fit to address my remarks toward a known audience.  My friend, Rick, for example, or my roommate, Michael, or 1996 NBA Rookie of the Year, Damon Stoudemire – any living, breathing, humanoid personage.  But with actual people come actual sentiments and an obligation to acknowledge the experience and opinions of my addressee; and that is something that I (in my egocentric literary manner) have neither the desire nor patience to do. 
With you, Dale, I am fortunate enough to be able to make things up as I go along.  For instance, did you know you love bananas?  Well you do.  Can’t get enough fucking bananas.  And because of this sudden revelation, I am free to write any number of banana-centric diatribes knowing full-well that my intended audience will remain very much engaged.  It’s that flexibility that marks you as such a worthy recipient of my words, Dale.  Besides, if Anne Frank can address her personal insights to an immaterial companion, then I’m certainly allowed to do the same.  Like I always say: anything that’s good enough for Anne Frank is good enough for me (note – I kick ass at hide-and-seek).
I’m sorry to put all this on you so abruptly, Dale.  I know you’ve only been existing for, what, about five minutes now, so this must be a lot to take in.  But rest assured that as your sole purpose in this world is to serve as a receptacle for my thoughts and stories, you’ll have plenty of time to ruminate on your newfound existence and the intricacies of my literary psyche.
Which brings us to me.  I feel, in so far as your be-all and end-all is going to be the digestion of my forthcoming wordsmithery, I owe it to you to say a little bit about myself: who I am, where I come from, what preexisting opinions I might possess.  This way you’ll have a firm grasp on the context from whence my thoughts and recountings shall soon be all a’springing.  Think of it as a hardy foundation upon which the brilliant insights I address to you will rise like so many mighty towers.  This also, I’m sure, will save us time later down the road, as every tall tale won’t require an inordinate amount of back-story. 
So here we are.  In an effort to save space, and perhaps to enhance the entertainment value of this biographical business (or maybe I’m just lazy), I’ve gone ahead and condensed my entire existence into a short list of ten things I like.  Though this certainly will not limn out my life to the fullest extent, my hope is it will create a sort of paint-by-numbers portrait of yours truly so that you might catch a rainbowed glimpse at the frolicking dolphins of my soul.  Besides which, Dale, if I know you (and I do), you love learning about people this way.  In fact, the only thing you love more is bananas.  Shall we begin?

1)      Lists
Aren’t lists great?  Easy to write, with little attention paid to syntactical arrangement or overall flow.  Plus they’re eye-catching and fun to read: perfect for denizens of our bite-sized candy bar culture.  As they are, by their very nature, a judgmental form of ideological arrangement, they are wont to inspire hours of spirited debate regarding the expertise of the author, the ordering of the items, and the very merits of certain inclusions or disclusions from their ranks.  I mean, what greater thrill is there than to flip on VH1 and discover that Bad Brains – fucking Bad Brains – qualified for their list of the top one hundred so-and-sos?  None.  That’s what.  (Seriously though, they deserve it.  I mean, go back and listen to Rock for Light, that shit was tight.)

2)      Music
Holy moley!  Stop the presses!  Kid likes music?  No freakin’ way!  Yeah, I know.  I’m sure I didn’t blow your mind with that revelation, Dale, but hear me out.  My love affair with the sonic arts has, over time, jumped way past the borderline stages of obsession and into a category of outright nerd-dom.  I mean, how many people do you know who will defend the legacy of Twista in one breath, extol the merits of (1969 faux-supergroup) the Masked Marauders in his next, and then jump into debate over whether Chick Webb or Gene Krupa would have made for a better thrash-metal drummer?  Nick Hornby?  Chuck Klosterman?  That weird kid you knew in college who always wore headphones and DJed a Motown-only radio show every Saturday from 2 AM to 6AM?  Yeah, that’s what I thought.
As far as personal tastes go, mine tend to run a pretty wide gamut and come and go as frequently as the wind.  Case in point, here is a synopsis of the bands I would have called my favorites at various points across my first twenty years:
Age 6: Emmylou Harris and the soundtrack to “A Chorus Line.” (On a side note, how did I not end up gay?  Seriously.)
Age 10: The Fugees and Sixpence None the Richer (Let’s just say it was a weird crossbreeding of VH1 video countdowns and Boston’s only Jam’N 94.5.)
Age 14: Limp Bizkit and Moby (Who, when you think about it are really two peas in the same, very Caucasian pod.)
Age 18: King Crimson, GWAR, and Parliament Funkadelic (Strangely enough, I wouldn’t start taking drugs for another year.)
Age 22: Hot 8 Brass Band, Dan Romer & Benh Zeitlin, and Why?  (And you’ll have to take me at my word that I didn’t just list three obscure artists for the sake of pretentiousness.  I mean, I am pretentious, but go buy Rock with the Hot 8, Glory at Sea, and Elephant Eyelash and see for yourself.)
I guess what I’m trying to say, Dale, is I LOVE music.  From skiffle to shock rock, hard-bop to Balinese monkey chants, any m√©lange of melody, harmony and rhythm is a welcome sensory undertaking in my book (except for the Dave Matthews Band – seriously, fuck them).  So do prepare yourself for my musings to be peppered with references, reviews and rants that bring out the audiophile in me and send the average reader (which you are) reaching for his nearest Rolling Stone anthology.  Oh, also, Webb would have made a far better thrash-metal drummer.  No question.

3.    Cheese Fondue
Yes, like just about everyone and their mother these days with a fully functioning set of tastebuds and the financial wherewithal to be choosy, I have dubbed myself a “foodie,” and yes, I’m aware of how obnoxious it sounds to presume membership in some elite society of eaters based simply on a little added concern for the particular stylings of the fuel I ingest.  However, I give myself three justifications for such brash self-proclamations.  (See, I told you I like lists.)
1) I know how to cook – quite well if you ask me; although amateur cooking is one of those creative enterprises whose participants can never be completely certain of their merits.  I mean, with the possible exception of Wonder Mike from the Sugar Hill Gang, has anyone ever gone over to a friend’s house to eat and the food just ain’t no good – and then told them so?
 2) I work in the food industry (at the time of this writing), giving restaurant tours of the city of Chicago.  So at very least I am well-versed in the subjects of eight-pound slices of pizza, sandwiches dipped in beef fat, and hotdogs with pickles on them. 
3) I am a Food Network devotee to the obsessive extent that I have eaten at every New York City restaurant against which Bobby Flay threw down (even those sullied losers – I’m looking at you, Schnipper’s, and that shit-sandwich you tried to pass off as Sloppy Joe.  Don’t mess with the Flay).  I also once watched an hour of Paula Dean during the third and forth quarters of an NFL playoff game because while flipping channels during a commercial break, I noticed she was using an ingredient I like (fennel!) and I wanted to see what she was making with it (a salad!).
Regardless of my qualifications as a culinary enthusiast, the point to this over-worded entry is the proselytism of my favorite dish: fondue.  Whether huddled about the crock-pot in a quaint slope-side chalet or wolfing down a hedonistic smorgasbord at that over-commercialized den of indulgence, the Melting Pot, cheese fondue always takes the cake (my twelfth favorite food).  To the layman who counters that it is merely the inverse of grilled cheese, I say, “screw you, Layman.  Don’t be a dip,” and then giggle because I made a pun.  You of all people, Dale, should know that the perfect blend of Gruyere, white wine and Kirschwasser is downright divine in its flavoring and unmatched in its consumptive decadence.  While the Swiss might not be the most adept on the battlefield, and their knives are downright befuddling, they sure as hell know how to whip up a scrumptious dairy dish that’s tantalizing on the taste buds and fun for the whole family.

4.    The Boston Red Sox
The single greatest entity in the history of modern athletica, with the possible exception of the forward pass, women’s beach volleyball, and Brian Scalabrine.  Though if you gave me the option of a world without Sunday afternoons taking in the Sawx at Fenway or a world in which everyone ran the pistol offense, Misty May was just the name of the brunette humping the pole on stage 2 during the 1:30 AM shift at Juggaboos, and NBA championship teams didn’t have husky gingers stumbling around the court in garbage-time minutes, I think I would still choose the latter.  And yes, I’m well aware that for much of the country, the BoSox have, since winning the ’04 World Series (in dramatic fashion, after coming back from three games down against the Yankees, remember? Remember?  Huh, do ya?) lost some of their lovable loser luster.  But answer me this: does the Hope Diamond shine any less bright since it stopped killing people?  Exactly.

5.    The writing of Edward Abbey
I cannot extol the works of this man enough.  Touted as the Henry David Thoreau of the American West, Abbey may well be the most underappreciated author in the American literary cannon.  He writes with a blessed prose, highlighted by unrivaled descriptions of the staggering natural beauty in his desert, canyon, and mountain settings.  His characters and plots are archetypes in and of themselves, which come together to sprout tales of rugged individualism and the desperate preservation of the old western way in the face of encroaching modernization.  If you like Clint Eastwood, you’re sure to enjoy Abbey.  If you read Cormac McCarthy, you’ll definitely love Abbey.  If you consider yourself a naturalist, romantic, cowboy, or adventurer, then Abbey is for you.  I mean, how many novelists have had their work adapted into Kirk Douglas/Walter Matthau vehicles (one which Douglas claimed was his all-time favorite film) and can be credited with inspiring an entire eco-terrorism movement?  Certainly not Hemmingway (fuckin’ hack).
If you’re looking to get into Abbey (which you should be, Dale, you enviro-nut, you), I recommend starting with the understated epic, The Brave Cowboy (later adapted into the film, Lonely are the Brave) about one bold buckaroo’s struggles against the forces that be. From there you might move to his sequential environmental activism thrillers, The Monkey Wrench Gang (film due out in 2013) and Hayduke Lives!  If you fancy yourself ready for the big leagues or just want to read the man’s most decadent prose and peer into the tortured soul of a romantic genius, opt for his published diary, Confessions of a Barbarian.  Actually, the latter option is really his money tome, so you might as well say ‘screw it’ and just buy that.  I promise you will not be disappointed.  For one thing his writing is absolutely nothing like mine, so he’s at least got that going for him.

6.    Tap dancing
If there’s a natural segue from schilling the virtues of a vaguely anarchic eco-fiend from the red-rock canyons and scrub-tree scraggled mesas of Arizona, it’s clearly Mr. Bojangles.  At the age of three, I had the good fortune of being shown the Gene Kelly classic, Singin’ in the Rain.  Something inside me must have clicked, because my immediate reaction was to turn to my mother and announce “I want to do that.”  Now whether or not what I actually meant by “that” was “bang Debbie Reynolds,” my momma, bless her soul, took it upon herself to head down to L’Ecole De Ballet and sign me up for beginner tap lessons.  Twenty years of stompin’ and shufflin’ later, I’m no closer to gettin’ with the kindly Miss Reynolds, but by many accounts have become a darned good hoofer. 
I know the modern American perception of tap lies in some weird intermarriage of racist minstrel shows, gay-as-Christmas musical theatre numbers, and dreadlocked men trying to bring in both da noise and da funk, and that’s not too far off.  But as an art-form, tap is unlike any other (well, I guess it’s a little bit like step-dancing).  It’s music, dance, theatre, athletics, history and philosophy all rolled into one, and it’s one of those rare exciting trades which, when experienced in its highest level of technical proficiency, has the potency to blow your mind into a million little pieces (and then hammer out a soft-shoe routine on top of them).  I’m not saying everybody should learn how to tap-dance, but at the very least, Dale, go Youtube some clips of Jimmy Slide, Peg-leg Bates, or the Nicholas Brothers.  And tell Debbie Reynolds I’m waiting.

7.    David Chase’s seminal television series, The Wire
There’s really nothing I can say about this that hasn’t been said a thousand times by pretty much everybody you know, Dale.  Yes, it’s the greatest television series of all time.  Yes it’s ludicrous that you haven’t watched it yet (especially considering the incessant badgering of the aforementioned “everybody you know.”)  But I understand.  There are only so minutes in a day, and by all means you just had to catch Glee.  I mean, the weird looking one (sorry, not very specific, I meant Lea Michele) was doing a Cyndi Lauper medley in the middle of her wood-shop class. Cyndi Lauper! Wood shop!  Well you know what? Fuck you, Dale.  Time-after-time for you to grow a pair and get to know Stringer, McNulty and the gang.  It will change the way you think about everything.  (Ok, maybe just Baltimore.  But everything about Baltimore.)

8.    Showering
A story for you, Dale.  I once had the privilege of getting to see Cake perform at my alma mater, Northwestern University.  Due to inclement weather (or I guess I could have just said rain), the concert was held indoors in one of the school’s gymnasiums.  It being early summer, and this gym being something like 100 years old (it had actually hosted the first-ever NCAA basketball tournament) and not equipped to deal with thousands of drunk and sweaty alt-rock fans crammed onto its court like trumpet-and-vibraslap-crazed cattle, the temperature of the building seemed to be lingering in the upper 800s (Fahrenheit, of course). 
At some point during the show (I think it was between Frank Sinatra and Italian Leather Sofa), John McCrea (lead singer) turned to the audience and asked, “it’s pretty hot and sweaty in here, huh?” to which everyone let out a loud cheer because yes, it was, in fact, both hot and sweaty in there.  He then inferred “but it’s alright, because after this you’re all gonna head to your dorms and take a nice long shower.”  Again the crowd let out a cheer because while it seemed a bit peculiar the interest Mr. McCrea was taking in our physical hygiene, we were planning to do just that.  However, he continued, “well what about the millions of people world-wide who don’t have access to clean water?  What about them?”  The room went silent as the rant continued.  “You people don’t know how good you have it…”  It was unbelievable.  Here he had hoodwinked us into proclaiming our enthusiasm for personal cleanliness only to pull a bait-and-switch and guilt-trip his own young fans about our profligacy with fresh H­2O.  How dare he!
Now don’t get me wrong.  I am very aware of how lucky I have it and had it back then.  And I’ll agree that a substantial portion of the crowd were, in all likelihood, aquatically spoiled and had long taken for granted the ability to bathe themselves on a regular basis.  But having that self-righteous jackass (who, I’ll note, had publically bitched out a stage-hand because his onstage towel was the wrong size) take me to town for enjoying a good sudsing up was an unwarranted outrage and an affront to myself and all other well-washed spirits partial to both Fashion Nugget and being clean.  The fact is I love showering.  I love the endless warmth of the steam that wafts and wraps around me.  I love the feel of dozens of miniscule cascades tickling every inch of my naked flesh.  I love the chemically floral aromas of soaps and shampoos and the feeling of immaculate, baby-soft purity when I step out and cocoon myself in the gentle embrace of a towel.  All of that is mine, and no bearded speak-singing Bono-wannabe can ever take that away from me.  Ever.  So screw you, McCrea.  Maybe it means I’ll be going to hell with the goats (and not heaven with the sheep), but this is one rock-and-roller who won’t be cajoled into turning off his tap.

9.    Jessica Alba Circa 2001
Two words: Dark Angel.

10.  Sailing
At the time of this writing, I am having a great deal of difficulty finding and landing a job.  At some point during every exhaustive job hunt, there comes a point when one asks oneself “well what would I be doing if money, field, qualification and location were of no importance and I could literally do anything I wanted?”  For me, the answer to that question is teaching sailing at a Caribbean resort. 
Now I’m sure there are certain aspects to that dream scenario that I’ve overlooked.  For instance, the majority of my clientele would most likely not be model-hot ex-cheerleaders vacationing in the wake of a recent breakup who just want to stare longingly into my eyes while I pilot us about the sun-drenched shores and crystal clear seas of Cabo San Lucas.  But even without my idealized companion, small-craft sailing is to me one of the great joys of life.  I remember fondly my days as the lead sailing instructor at a small New Hampshire summer camp, taking intrepid youngsters out into the blustery blue of Lake Newfound.  One hand on the tiller, the other clenched firmly about the main sheet, I could feel the sheer power of nature propelling my craft, smell the clean air billowing into our sail.  If it sounds romantic, that’s because it really was.  (Also starting any sentence with the phrase “I remember fondly” instantly turns any writing into trite romanticism.  Seriously, try it.) 
More recently, I spent a summer captaining crafts on Lake Michigan.  Believe me when I say there is no better view of the great city of Chicago than that from a gust-driven sloop a mile off-shore.  Something about the detachment from land – from fuel or energy or complex technology – makes sailing the greatest form of relaxation I can fathom.  Factor in the thrilling intricacy and intimacy of a boat’s command – the need to feel out the wind and waves while hiking and heeling or running or reaching – and the experience becomes this Zen-like union with the very world around you.  On top of this, sailing only tends to manifest in the most picturesque of settings so it inherently guarantees a splendid view.
But back to the job search.  Why, you might ask, if I am so taken by the sport, don’t I leave my life behind (or at least start scouring the Club Med listings)?  And my answer is I don’t know.  I don’t know why I hesitate to stake my fortunes, at least for a year or two, to a passionate pursuit in an undeniably magnificent locale.  I guess when all is said and done, I don’t have the balls.  I’m not willing to make such a dramatic life-leap, especially on my own.  So as I dally about this Midwestern metropolis, casting my efforts into a theatrical this-or-that and churning out my (hopefully) mountain of written word, I am doomed to scrape by on administrative earnings and impound myself inside the office environment that society always told me I needed. 
I’d rather be sailing.


So there you have it, Dale.  Lists, Music, Cheese Fondue, The Red Sox, Edward Abbey, Tap Dancing, The Wire, Showering, Jessica Alba, and Sailing: ten things I like.  Note that these are by no means my ten favorite things, but merely some sample inclusions from a far greater-encompassing compendium (and yes, that’s the second time I’ve used compendium in this writing, but it’s really a great word, isn’t it?).  Think of it as a sneak peak at the pages of Encyclopedia Mike.  I was thinking about providing you with a second list of things I dislike, but I feel I would be infringing on Sei Shonagon’s essay, “Hateful Things,” from her 10th century guide to proper behavior in the Japanese court, and I’m not in the habit of ripping off millennia-old matrons from the Far East. That would be oh so hateful! (And that, Dale, will be the most obscure literary reference I will ever make.)
Hopefully this list has done some good in informing you of who I am and where I come from (preposition at the end of a clause!); so that I might go on with my many tales of tragedy and triumph knowing that you’ll not be approaching them blindly.  At any length, comprising a list of things I enjoy has allowed me to indulge my egoism in writing, which I suppose is the unstated ideology behind blogging in the first place.  After all, Dale, this is about me: what I think, what I do, and how the world concerns and revolves around me.  If you don’t like it, well, I suppose you could go off and read some other blog, but seeing as I invented you that wouldn’t be very gentile now, would it? 
Here, how’s this?  You take in my self-centered pronouncements and I’ll do my darndest to keep them entertaining.  That sound like a deal, Dale?  Splendid!  Well until next time then, keep it real, my friend.  Now go eat yourself some bananas.  Also feel free to put on a cowboy hat (you always wear cowboy hats, Dale).

Sincerely,

Mike