- 4:22 pm - Sun, Jun 9, 2013
Turning 28 in Tokyo
When I turned 27, I started what appears to be a new birthday tradition: celebrating in places that aren’t Chicago. I didn’t intend on it, but fate (and scheduling) put me in Las Vegas that day. The whole night is a bit fuzzy, but I remember it started at the Hooters Casino for dinner and blackjack and ended with an empty wallet at the Paris Casino craps table at 6 am. I had a headache the next day.
My 28th birthday was supposed to be a little bit more dignified. Again, fate and the availability of my fellow travelers put me in a faraway place for the big two-eight. Tokyo.
God save the queen.
To be specific, Tokyo on my birthday. With some of my best friends, and worst influences in the world (Nomar and GoonMan traveled out from the U.S. with me, to meet T$ who was teaching English in Japan). Naturally, after being on a jet for 11 hours, arriving in a foreign country with no internal sense of time or place, without the ability to read a single sign or communicate with very few of the 25 million residents of the largest city in the world, we decided to do the responsible thing — test the limits of our alcohol tolerance, sleep deprivation, and culture shock. The first stop after my poor navigation to the hostel (only saved my T$’s smartphone with a data plan) was literally a beer vending machine on the street. Japan has beer vending machines and no open container laws. Japan is also not filled with obnoxious, irresponsible Americans, so it’s not really that terrible of an idea if you keep that in perspective. Inside the vending machine was a Japan favorite, Asahi - their version of PBR. Drinkable and works every time!
After exchanging a couple of 100 yen coins for some of the dryest beer I’ve ever had in my life, we set out to our dinner reservation — the Tokyo Ninja Bar! Yes. That’s right. A Ninja themed Japanese restaurant. Because, if you can’t beat a stereotype, embrace it and sell throwing-star-themed sushi with it. It was pretty clear when we arrived that they catered almost exclusively to Gaijins (Japanese for foreigner). To get to our seat we had to travel through several “secret” passages that could only be opened by using “ninja spells.” To order, you had to use a secret ninja button (garage door opener taped to the bottom of the table) to summon your waiter! However once we were sat, if you had to pee, you just followed the hall and took a left. The sushi was astronomically expensive, and we didn’t eat enough of it. We did order plenty of sake. Things got a little blurry at that point, but I was told that since it would technically be my birthday at midnight, I needed to summon my inner ninja warrior and fight off sleep like it was the boss at the end of Tekken. Fortunately the hostel had a bar, so technically if we stumbled home and had another uber-dry Asahi, I would have rallied past midnight and thus truly celebrating my birthday properly in Japan. Well, right about midnight a powerful mixture of Asahi, Udon Noodles, and this mystery dish that had egg and some kind of fish in it from the Ninja place turned into a powerful stimulant. I became possessed.
I decided we had to go out, except in Japan (like the U.K. and other smart-minded countries) most bars close at midnight. So we searched. And searched. And searched for an establishment, any place that might serve a nightcap, just so we my birthday story would end differently then “we went back to the hostel at 11:00 and slept.” And then we discovered it. What I experienced next was hands down the best example of local ambassadorship of my life. I don’t care who says otherwise, people in Japan are lovely and we could learn a thing or two from them. We walked into a tiny bar off a side street called “Blue Something.” It looked like someone’s living room. The bar had 6 seats on it, and there was a couch. It was packed to the brim with nostalgic Americana kitch. They had a dozen or so statues of famous blues artists, vinyl records littered on a book shelf, and old advertisements for Coca-Cola and Burger King. The whole place was no bigger than a typical Chicago studio apartment. At first we were greeted as if we had just broken a window and climbed into a home, but after some back and forth with T$ trying to do the international sign language symbol for birthday, the proprietor welcomed us as weary, sleep-deprived travelers desperately in need of another Asahi. There were only 4 people in the bar, including the owner/bartender. I couldn’t figure out if it was compassion or just their policy, but in addition to the super tall beers they poured for us, the bartender, an angel sent directly from heaven, brought out a dozen plates of bar snacks. We ate every fucking bit.
In the other corner of the bar, watching us cautiously was an old timer who had camped out on the karaoke machine, and was serenading us with off-pitch covers of j-pop songs. I thought he might have been old enough to remember the war. I was really hoping to make it the whole trip without discussing the giant 21 kiloton elephant in the room. Fortunately, doing so would involve some mutual understanding of Japanese/English. Eventually he called me over, and me and the old timer sung “Stand by me“ (their only English song) while T$ tried to speak his fluent Japanese with the locals, by pointing at things and looking up words in a phrase book. Even for a cosmopolitan place like Tokyo, three drunk, jovial Americans is a bit of a novelty, so I’m confident everyone stayed up a little bit later than usual to hang out. Sitting at the bar we would go through a routine where the locals would say something with makeshift sign language, and we would turn to T$ (who speaks surprisingly little Japanese for how long he’s been living in the country), who would be unable to translate, and we would respond with more grunting and pointing. From the conversation we deduced that someone was someone’s uncle, and the old guy had been to L.A. once.
Eventually, we realized we might be keeping them awake, and rather than make them kick us out for curfew we got our tab and made our way out. They refused any tip whatsoever. It was bizarre. Back home you don’t typically offer someone money and they refuse because its dishonorable. If this were Chicago, someone would have tried to steal my wallet at this point. I did get one souvenir before I left, a photo of me with my new friends:
One of the best birthdays ever. And a headache the next day.
- 9:59 pm - Wed, May 15, 2013
My first experience in the high tech industry
Approximately 10 years ago as a senior in high school, I was recruited for a technology business pilot class. The premise was that in cooperation with some local technology companies, high schoolers would get a hands on approach to understanding the ins and outs of a tech business, while earning a few hours of college credit. Because I was one of the few people who took Cisco Networking in high school, and didn’t use my classtime to download porn or attempt to hack into the school, I was identified as a good candidate for this class. It seemed like a good deal at the time. In exchange for being a pilot program guinea pig, I’d get college credits and get to skip a whole class period — a perk that kids with senioritis covet more than prisoners crave cigarettes and Bud Light.
Little did I know that this humble program would turn into an epic disaster, and I would learn basically nothing from the curriculum itself. Ironically, watching the adults fuck the program into the ground, was quite possibly the best real-world education I received prior to actually entering the real world.
Here’s what I learned:
Contrary to what I thought as a high schooler, many grownups don’t know what the hell they are doing. As a current grown up I can attest to this. But back then I believed that adults suddenly received their adultyness upon college graduation and just knew how to do everything. As it turns out, that isn’t the case. Our class was taught by three instructors (names and details throughout changed to protect the incompetent), Bob #1, a Bob #2, and Pete. Each had their own quirks. Bob #1(a community college computer science instructor) had a silent anger to him — like a passive aggressive ready to snap over something trivial. He would excuse himself often when frustrated, presumably to kick box the water cooler in the hallway. Now the second Bob, was a nothing short of a maniac. He was one of those guys who did something consulting and venture capital related, but no one actually could tell you what his real job was. He didn’t need to collect himself like Bob #1. Yelling at high schoolers was instinctual for him. We all unanimously agreed on day 1 that he was basically a dick. Pete, well, Pete liked to look at sports scores and talk about women. We liked Pete.
The premise of the course was that we were supposed to create a map of the building we were working in, using some proprietary software that one of the companies had developed. Except we never got to mapping, because the class didn’t produce a “project plan,” or at least one that was satisfactory. So the grownups did the responsible thing and kidnapped the power cords from all of our computers when we came into class one day.
Grownups can act like kids too.
Well, for one student, enough was enough. He thought he was going to be learning how to program in Unix, and he was filling out timesheets and getting berated by a set of Bobs for not filling out his timesheet properly. He dropped out.
Bob #2 decided that no student would ever leave him again, so he (the adult) blamed us for letting the other student drop out and demanded we create a paper tombstone with [student’s name] on it to remind us of “our” failure. Nothing inspires workplace synergy like hanging an effigy above your desk. We decided that we truly hated Bob #2 from that point forward. Also at that time, I learned that grownups don’t know how to communicate
One of the prerequisites for getting into the program was having experience in extra-curricular activities. Imagine my surprise when I arrived late to class (due to a pre-negotiated tardiness for attending a student council meeting) and had Bob #2 push me into the hall and scream at me for interrupting his prestigious lecture on timesheets. That yelling fit became the shot heard round the world. We staged a mutiny the next day and gave an ultimatum. Bob #2 was toxic to our classroom and he had to go, or we were all going to drop out of the class and railroad the program. He resigned over the weekend, and we made his own tombstone the next day.
Not all grownups get along. Even ones who work together.
At the semester switch, Pete quit teaching in the program for no other reason than, he, like us couldn’t stand Bob #1 with the malice of a thousand pissed off Donald Trumps. This left us in the care of Bob #1, and a new instructor Bob #3. Bob #3 was actually a cool guy. We had dropped the proprietary software in favor of some legitimate movie studio software, and Bob #3 was good at using it and even better at teaching it. Our adulation of Bob #3, infuriated Bob #1, who at that point commanded less respect from his class than most P.E. teachers. This instilled another important lesson in me, the best leaders are the ones that don’t dictate to those who supervise, but use their skills to help their subordinates do their job better. The worst leaders are the ones who don’t understand this principle, and instead try to lead with the stick and never the carrot. Bob #1 became increasingly difficult to work with. He was disinterested in teaching and increasingly threw tantrums when he felt like he was being disrespected. In one final act he singled me out (which, I swear to the god of computer hardware, I didn’t even do anything). He had a beef with me and instead of handling the “discipline” in the classroom, or with my school, he calculated that the best way to handle the situation was to stick his head in my car window and literally scream at me for being an instigator for making the entire class disrespect him. This occurred with my gear in drive, as I was leaving the parking lot. Another lesson learned — pick your battles. As it turned out, the instructors were somewhat more disposable than the students. Since this was a pilot program, relying on grant money and corporate giving, the course coordinators couldn’t have all of the pilot students bum-rush their counselors with complaints towards their instructor for being a well-documented dick. If that happened, the coordinators would look like they dropped the ball and would lose all further funding. The next year, our school remained with the program. Bob #1 did not. I can only assume he spent his newfound free time crying and getting hammered at Applebee’s by himself.
Speaking of funders, I learned that sometimes your job, isn’t actually your job. At the time I thought I was in a course to create a 3d model of an office building using state of the art software. Except everything about the program switched when they realized at semester that their software was awful at creating graphics. Our new mission ultimately evolved into preparing a presentation for our funders. The class was no longer about us learning new skills and software, but instead making sure we showed our funders that their money was well spent in a 2 minute rendered video of our work. Was it?
My final lesson learned was that even smart people can still suck at communication. Again, I should remind that I was 18 during this fiasco. Often, and by often I mean roughly twice a week, we would exploit a rather large loophole in the “off-site” high school class system. Namely, that the people who ran the program off-site didn’t talk to our high school at all. I don’t even think they had each other’s numbers. Us on the other hand, expertly concocted a brilliant scheme where we would go to a local pancake establishment, and gorge ourselves on cheesefries and flapjacks when we should have been reading Toni Morrison in 4th period English. We all stuck to the same story every week and our plot was never uncovered. In fact, our lateness was praised for being a part of this high selective program and working so diligently. All we had to tell our lit teacher was that “a meeting went long.” It’s like they secretly wanted us to learn how to game the system as a final lesson.
The course was an infinite source of drama and humor for me, and looking back on it, I don’t think I would do it any other way. It was an unintentionally suburb education and I made some good friendships with my fellow students stuck in the trenches, as people always bond in times of crisis, or having two terrible Bobs for instructors.
And a few years later, I walked past Bob #2 at the YMCA. He was ballroom dancing. Yes, ballroom dancing. Gracefully, in fact. I smiled and kept walking.
- 10:46 pm - Thu, May 2, 2013
- 1 note
Whatever Happened to Michael Keaton?
Whatever happened to Michael Keaton?
When I was 7 years old, I came out of a Best Buy with my parents (presumably after purchasing some beta tapes for our family video camera or a cassette of Dangerous by Michael Jackson) and waiting in the parking lot was a minivan painted with the Batman logo. A guy, who in hindsight was severely underpaid, was handing out Batman t-shirts to an unruly crowd of asshole grade schoolers to promote the now-classic Batman Returns. Try as I might to get my hands on an adult large Batman t-shirt, I kept on getting pushed out of the way by the 4th graders. Disappointed I went home with my growing impatient dad. Surely if I were the real Batman, I would have been able to throw the kids who had exercised their puberty advantage on me, onto the pavement like the nameless henchmen that Batman routinely manhandled. But looking in the mirror at my scrawny, 4 foot tall self, one of life’s many harsh lessons unfolded. I wasn’t Batman — and probably would never be him. Much to my delight last week, I flipped on the TV to watch one of the 12 channels I get on my basic cable package (6 of which are in Spanish, thanks a lot RCN), and I landed on Batman. That’s right. The original, Tim Burton glorious masterpiece, Batman, featuring Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker. After watching it for a few minutes I realized how naive I was. Not because I thought I could become Batman — but that my hero, the Batman I knew, Michael Keaton, didn’t look like a super-human crime fighter. He looked more like my middle aged neighbor who I’d see jogging in the morning before work with one of those belts that has extra water bottles on it.
Times have changed since 1989. Movies are much different now
Back when Batman came out, we accepted the film as theatre on the screen. We knew when we saw the Batmobile flying above “Gotham,” it wasn’t real. The movie wasn’t set out to be a documentary — Batman could still be Michael Keaton and we would believe he was the capable of winning any fight. He was mythical, the result of an epic story, designed as allegory for fighting evil with great courage in a time of crisis. There isn’t a single person who saw Michael Keaton as Batman and thought to themselves, “Holy bunny farts! This is a man who could walk down a dark alley and single handedly beat super-villains into super-mush!” It’s Michael Keaton for Chrissake. Hell, even in his prime, Michael Keaton looked like a guy who a couple of teenagers would single out of a crowd, just to rob on the El because he probably wouldn’t fight back. Flash forward to 2012 Batman and we’re greeted with Christian Bale, a man who could, without a doubt, beat the shit out of you:
(Seriously. This would be such a short fight)
Whereas Michael Keaton in his prime still looked like he did most of his workouts at Curves and not bench-pressing cars and fighting mountain lions like Mr. Bale.
But I digress, what happened to Michael Keaton?
After Batman, Keaton followed with Batman Returns, a film that Danny DeVito got snubbed for an Oscar ten times harder than Gary Sinese. I mean, just fucking watch this and tell me that wasn’t robbery. He also went on to do Kenneth Branaugh’s Adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing to critical acclaim. He was even banging Courtney Cox during this time!
But then, Michael Keaton made Multiplicity. A film with tremendous potential — it was directed by Harold Ramis, it starred Andie MacDowell, and most importantly it had Michael Keaton. The film bombed. Roger Ebert gave it 2 ½ stars and said “Multiplicity is more of a ground-level comedy, in which we can usually anticipate the problems for Doug and his clones.”
The wheels came off after Multiplicity. Despite what we had thought, Keaton had been making movies, except you never saw any of his last feature films because they were shit. Not just, conceptually sound films with a few minor flaws, but walk-out-of-the-theater-throw-a-bitch-fit-in-the-lobby-and-demand-you-get-your-money-back-or-you’ll-start-taking-goddamn-hostages bad. Besides lending his voice to Toy Story, and let’s face it, the real stars of Toy Story are the animators, not the actors who spend a week recording their voice in sweatpants, he hasn’t done anything noteworthy.
Desperate Measures, 1998, 5.9/10
Jack Frost, 1998, 4.9/10
A Shot at Glory, 2000, 6.1/10
(Hiatus to do bit parts on TV for a few years)
Quicksand, 2003, 5.2/10
First Daughter, 2004, 4.7/10
Herbie Fully Loaded, 2005, 4.6/10
White Noise, 2005, 5.4/10
Game 6, 2005, 5.8/10
Post Grad, 2009, 5.2/10
His 2000’s make Tyler Perry look like Alfred Hitchcock. I’ve never seen an actor play so consistently below the Mendoza line. You would think that one of those films would at least get a 7/10. Even more troubling for us Michael Keatonites, is a recent lawsuit he is currently fighting. The suit argues that during the filming of The Merry Gentleman (6.5/10, IMDB), Keaton slacked at his duties as director and among several faults, left during production to go on a fishing trip, in addition to treating his production company like shit. Say it ain’t so Mike. We thought you were the handsome, folksy friend we wished we had. But the reality is that you’re probably a massive prick who is still high on the success of Batman.
But no matter how much of a douchebag this lawsuit asserts Keaton is, or how many movies he makes that score below 5/10 on IMDB, I’ll always remember Michael Keaton as the one, true Batman. Not the hero we want, but the hero we deserved.
Here’s to you Mr. Keaton, wherever you are.
- 10:40 pm - Thu, Apr 25, 2013
A letter from future me to Chicago rain
Dear Chicago Rain,
It’s me, TheJones, your former arch-nemesis. I paid a courier to deliver you this elaborately calligraphed piece of parchment on horseback to let you know how I was doing. It’s been a while, right? That’s because shortly after 2013, I had a little episode. Well, the doctors told me I had a bout of “psychosis.” I don’t quite remember what happened exactly, but witnesses say I was found outside of my apartment pouring buckets of water on myself and screaming “RAIN YOU MOTHERFUCKER! DON’T DISAPPOINT ME YOU WET SKANK!” This was said to apparently no one in particular. After an unpleasant takedown by the K-9 unit, I began therapy. And I’m fine now. I just have to take a Prozac the size of a Big Mac 45 minutes prior to showering and I’ve been banned from most public pools for water-punching.
Maybe you didn’t intend to give me a come-apart, but I just want you to hear my side of the story. Back in the day, I would get in my car to drive to work and you would be there. Drive home, and there’s Mr. Soggy Trousers again. I made plans to grill in the park and throw the ‘ole pigskin around with my buddies, you’d be there to ruin everything. You were like that asshole Lakitu in Mario, just incessantly following me around and spraying your stupid precipitation at me like I was the bad guy. Funny though, you never seemed to show up when I was nice and dry indoors, only the moment I walked outside. And especially when I drove, because what’s a commute without mean ole Mr. Rain causing all kinds of fuckery on Lake Shore Drive. You rained so much you caused flood damage in parts of Illinois that aren’t remotely near bodies of water. For the entire spring of 2013, there was nothing we could do to escape your wrath. You made Cook County wetter than a movie theater after a Twilight premiere. And you owe us an apology.
But not long after my meltdown (don’t you dare make a water joke) I said enough…is enough. Enough of having to keep a spare pair of shoes at work to change into out of my rain shoes. Enough of having to brush snow off of my car at the end of April, questioning if God existed, and if so, asking rhetorically to the heavens why he has forsaken us? I decided to buy a Winnebago off Craigslist and I drove it until it died in the middle of Yuma, Arizona. For the record, it’s fucking awesome out here. We haven’t had precipitation since 1826. The other day, I reflected the sun off the face of my wristwatch at a feral cat, and it was instantly vaporized. Of course, nothing’s perfect. It’s too hot to get running water, but we do have lots of scorpion milk (and let me tell you, those little buggers are hard to milk). My pale Irish skin melted into a nice tanned Morgan Freeman tone after a week underneath the Yuma sun. I know what you’re thinking, we all could be so lucky.
I am a lucky man. I spend most of my days sitting on my porch, drinking moonshine and firing a shotgun at jackrabbits. Every now and then I head to the casino for some air conditioning, slots, and a $7.95 all-you-can-eat-pancake-buffet. Maybe someday, I’ll come back to Chicago. And maybe you and your little rain-trums will be a little more gentle to us hard workin’ folks. After an entire winter, we deserve a spring before summer, not a cold bath. But then again, maybe not.
I can’t say I’ve missed you.
Hugs and Umbrellas,
- 4:23 pm - Sat, Apr 20, 2013
I was planning on writing a funny reflection on my recent backpacking trip to Japan and joking about J-pop, facemasks, and the mysterious used-panty vending machines I lived among for a few weeks, in addition to my expected bewilderment with the differences between Japanese and American culture. Namely that people over there are polite to a fault, don’t go out in public only wearing sweat pants, and work undignified jobs with an inspiring amount of pride. Ironically enough you’ll never see better evidence of these traits than at a Japanese McDonalds, which will be the cleanest and most efficient Mickey D’s you’ll ever set foot in. You’ll see this pride too, in how well people dress. The idea of going out in public without giving one’s appearance careful consideration is unheard of. As an American, you’ll be shocked with the strong aroma when you set on a crowded subway car. Unlike the CTA’s fragrance of bum pee and sweaty ass, a Japanese subway smells like a Bath and Body Works — women liberally apply perfume and lotion in a successful effort to eradicate any trace of body odor.
But I can’t just reflect on the trip by making jokes about the food or the Tokyo subway, because at the core of what I wanted to write about it was the growing shame I have been feeling as an American. And in light of the recent bombing in Boston, all the jokes I had planned about fast food and fat people driving motorized scooters through drive throughs have been sombered by the reality of what America is these days. I’ve been feeling a lot of shame lately, and truthfully I think it’s been for some time.
One of my many neurotic ticks is that I check the Chicago Tribune front page constantly, partially because I’m not ignorant to the fact that a significant breaking news event could happen in one of the largest cities in the country. But also mostly because I’m a neurotic mess. That’s the main thing. On the Tribune article on the bombings, a fascinating chasm emerged in the comments section where the debate shifted from what should have been an outlet to express outrage for the attacks and sympathy for the victims, to a cynical extension of the gun control debate (“Let’s outlaw pressure cookers now!”) and an outlet for conspiracy theorists to blame the government, as if Obama himself somehow orchestrated this as part of a sinister plot to authorize the government to take away our rights (to bear arms, obviously). While I tend to believe that especially online, the dumbest and the loudest are the most heard, there is a distressing truth to the level and topics of discourse on any major news site. In a way, what gets said online is a means to gauge the pulse of the sickest Americans — and damn us, are we ever sick.
That same day, I read an article about a murder at a gun-range in Florida. The comments response was almost unanimously anger for the Tribune for advancing an “anti-gun” agenda by posting an out-of-state news story. Not anger that another person was killed from getting shot to death or remarks at our lack of shock from such an event, since reading about shootings in a newspaper in the US is as common activity as checking baseball scores — which is not the case throughout the rest of the civilized world. The online dialogue almost always suggests that the panacea for gun violence, occurring at a scale that is literally unprecedented for the developed world is more, unrestricted access to firearms by anyone who wants them. And anyone who argues otherwise is deemed un-American and crucified for having the audacity to take away our “rights.” A bill died in the senate last week that would have increased the amount of background checks needed to buy a firearm, because the Republicans thought this might cede too much power to the government. And by Republicans, I really mean NRA lobbyists. Again, if I went to virtually any other nation on earth and tried to implement this policy, no society on earth would look at it and say that it’s effective. Yet here we are. Conversely, if an outsider came to the US, saw how developed we are, yet still had the kind of murder rates we see in the third world, and the amount of gun proliferation we have, they would be floored. But if this same outsider told us that our culture around this issue is barbaric and unacceptable, they would be met with the arrogance of the average non-traveled American, claiming that they don’t understand our society, and they should mind their business. It’s very difficult to obtain a gun in Japan. Their death-by-firearm rate is also exponentially less than the United States. Of course there are other factors at play. But this is main one.
Besides feeling safer in Japan, you might notice the certain elements of infrastructure you’ve never seen before. Like bullet-trains, highways and roads that are maintained, hell — even trains that just run on time. Unlike America, there’s an expectation that a train arrives when we say it will, and implicitly if it doesn’t, someone gets held accountable. Another thing you notice instantly in Japan is the diet, or more aptly, the lack of obese people. We are, after all, a country who sells bacon and cheese sandwiches with fried chicken as bread. Eating food based on wheat noodles, rice, fish, and beans just doesn’t seem like it would catch on here, mostly because you can’t really put cheese on all of those things. Which is too bad, because you realize as an average-sized American how much taller you are than the average-sized Japanese. If we ate well and took care of ourselves, we’d be a nation of tall, beautiful super-people. Honest to god, “being back” only truly sunk in when I witnessed in the LAX customs, an obese woman in sweatpants crawl under the nylon line barrier to save her the 20 feet of walking to the other side. A completely fit Japanese businessman about her age was right behind me. Motherfucker flew across the pacific wearing a suit, and he still looked good.
What distresses me about these differences more than anything is that the Japanese take pride in themselves as a culture. Their infrastructure is a big source of pride. Having clean and safe cities is a source of pride. Preserving their cultural heritage is a source of pride. In the United States, what’s our biggest source of pride? I would argue it’s tied to our military victories and the power contained in our armed forced. And make no mistake, the U.S. supremely won the war. So, why are so many things better over there, than over here? In fact, basically every quantifiable way you can measure quality of life, infant mortality rate, life expectancy, literacy, etc. Japan beats us. And I feel like collectively, as a culture, that doesn’t bother us so much. If it did, we’d put more investment in fixing those problems than we do.
I have a love hate relationship with the Walgreens by my apartment. On one hand, it’s convenient to have a place to buy aspirin, beer, and TP(not always in that order) less than 5 minutes away. On the other hand I’ve started to loathe the whole entity that is Walgreens. They’ve instituted a “rewards card”, one of those things that saves you 5% on your purchases in exchange for them capturing all kinds of marketing data about the embarrassing products you buy. I don’t have one. I get too much amusement in declining their offer to sign up for the card when I get asked, literally every time I walk in there. It’s kind of like telling a beautiful girl no to a date, because her personality sucks. At the same time, corporate has clearly trained everyone (including the 7-years-o-college pharmacists) to say “Be Well!” at the end of every transaction. I imagine there are strict punishments for failing to do so, like having to work the “unlock-the-condom-case” shift or waking up the guy selling Street-Wise that passed out in the doorway. I understand why they do it. You want your marketing to be consistent, so the experience you have in the store lines up with the commercials you see on TV, but the people that work there aren’t robots or marketing materials. They are fucking human beings, and should be allowed to communicate with other human beings like human beings, and not as an extension of your marketing campaign. But that’s a strictly American business virtue in progress. Hire transient workers, take away their common sense and replace it overreaching corporate policy so you can make all of their decisions for them. It’s absurd that this is the standard for how we interact, or how business should operate. But that’s America.
I can speak to my own experience, that marketers have faced a tremendous challenge in the last decade. The internet shifted our paradigm on how we got attention from our audience. Traditional ads quit working like they used to. We should have embraced the change by building better products, making better connections with our audience, and using the internet tools that disarmed the power of the TV ad to build up communities. Instead, we’ve doubled down on the familiar, seeking out more pervasive places to place advertising. I filled up my car last week, and on the gas pump was an LCD screen with a GEICO commercial, made deliberately so that you can’t escape the audio or visual. Same thing happens when I buy groceries now. Or (insert your previously favorite ad-free activity here). It can’t be a mystery as to why we are such a hyper-commercialized society, when we find ways to commercialize any activity. I mean, filling up your car for gas is no longer an activity you can do without watching a commercial.
This is America today.
And don’t even get me started on what we’ve done to our schools and teachers. Or NASA.
So what went wrong? I think two things happened. First, we quit being idealists. And that’s our fault, not the fault of the government (or ‘the man’). We quit caring, expecting things to just happen for us. And I don’t mean that the misguided and disgusting rhetoric that unemployed college grads and people on government assistance are lazy moochers. Ask any graduate of a top tier university thanklessly waiting tables to support one internship after another if they are a lazy moocher (and they won’t be hard to find either). I mean that we, as a society, used to wake up and ask what good we could do for ourselves, and for others, and have some shred of belief that we could do it. We aren’t idealists anymore. We’re cynics. And cynics don’t do anything but sit in the back of the room and bitch that no one has improved the world for them.
The second thing that happened, heavily influenced by the first, is that the power disparity has grown into a wider chasm in this country than ever before. Not the income disparity —- which is in no way insignificant, but the power disparity. When I say power disparity, I mean that the average American has less control of their life, less say in their nation and community, less control over who represents them, less chance for class mobility, less reward for hard work, than ever before. And on this end, my generation has had it bad. The idea that someone from my generation could go to a public university for 4 years, pay for tuition from a summer job, graduate, work an internship that turns into a job, and then be able to afford a house and a car is laughable. But this wasn’t too unrealistic an expectation for the previous generation. I may very well be in my late 30’s before I can own a home, and I imagine I make more than the average 28 year old. I can’t imagine what kinds of challenges my generation’s children will face. I’m fairly certain it’s going to be worse.
I don’t know where we are going to end up, and I wish I could offer something more insightful than the disjointed ramblings of a guy with a jetlag headache who is just sick of reading about another fucked up news story in his home country, but this is one of those days where I just had to start writing until I couldn’t anymore.
But I think if we have any hope whatsoever, to fix our broken country and society, I saw it in the moments after those bombs went off in Boston. All of those videos, I saw more people running towards the explosions than away from them. If we’re gonna fix what’s broken with America, the people that run into the fire are the ones that will. And if more of us change course, and adopt that attitude, well, who knows. We might have a shot at fixing ourselves.