Saturday, June 24, 2006

Not Your Usual Father Figure

A brief summary of Father's Day with my dad last Sunday:

  • Drove away from downtown, where he picked me up from work, looking for a McDonald's, which is like driving away from Wrigleyville looking for a gay bar--there are some, but you're much more likely to find what you're looking for if you just TURN AROUND.
  • Settled on a Church's Chicken, asked me to run in and get him a sandwich, fries and pop, then looked at me funny when I waited for his money. "It's Father's Day, ain't it?" At least he laughed while saying this. If I were still a child, this line would have been followed by a pop in the mouth. Sent me back in to ask for a piece of cheese for his chicken sandwich (they don't do that at Church's).
  • Took me home so that I could set my VCR for the NBA Finals, which I guarantee only happened because he was headed to the West Side anyway to see one of his buddies play guitar at a club.
  • Dropped by a car repair chain, asked me to go in and find a certain product so that he could come right in and purchase it, and then we'd be off. Well, he didn't come in until 15 minutes after he sent me in. He was on his cell phone when he finally came in, so he had to yak away for a while before he could ask for the manager and yak with him for a while. Finally got to the counter, but disputed the price of something until the manager told the cashier to override and cut the price in half, presumably to get him the fuck out of there. Instead, Dad handed out flyers for his latest gig to the cashier, manager, and security guard, then had me run to the car...and fetch him his harmonica. "He does this all the time, doesn't he?" asked the security guard. I solemnly nodded. "Know why women like harmonica players?" asked my dad after chatting up the much younger cashier. "Cause you gotta know how to suck and blow and use your tongue, and they love that." Total time of brief trip to car repair chain--almost an hour and a half.
  • Stopped at a corner liquor store that had a big sign that said "We Make Keys" (I'm the one who noticed the sign because we were on our way to look for a Home Depot so that my dad could get some keys made, and looking for a place with my dad can sometimes take months). Two 8-year-old girls came out of the store and woke me from my nap after about 10 minutes to ask me if I could spell "invisible." When I asked why they would ask me, they responded, "The man in the store said that you can spell anything." Yes, he still embarrasses me by telling complete strangers that I was the spelling bee champ in 1990.
  • Despite having the address, he drove right past the club where his friend was playing because it looked so small that he just assumed that it wasn't the place. After 15 minutes of trying to reach his friend on the cell, he asked a woman in a sparkly disco-type outfit walking out of there if that place was hosting a blues band tonight, and she said yes. This dive tried to charge both of us $15 for the right to set foot in there, but my dad dropped his usual jive talk--former drummer for the Chi-Lites, played with James Brown at the Apollo, etc.--and talked his way in. They still made me give up $10. I stayed for two seconds, because my dad saw someone he wanted to talk to leaving and followed him outside, and I followed him and did not return. My Father's Day present was not going WWE on that shithole demanding my money back. He introduced me to the guys, I shit you not, as "This is my son--you know he was a spelling bee champ?" I sat in the car for an hour waiting for him to get through schmoozing these guys. I don't know where he gets the energy, honestly. Then he drove me home while on his phone yapping the whole trip.

So it was the whole gamut of emotions that I always feel about my dad--anger, pity, pride, awe, humor, embarrassment--all at once at times. I've picked up a lot of his bad habits and none of his few good ones, so for all I know, he's embarrassed that the only time he can be proud of his boy is when he talks about the spelling bee 16 years ago. But Sunday did remind me that, no matter how small-time he is as an entertainer, he has always cast a large shadow that I've struggled to fit into, which is why I hardly ever talk when I'm with him. That will probably never change. What I can do from this point until he dies is just watch him do his thing and pick out the finer points of his schtick and apply them to my existence. After all, many people would love to have a father around at all.

Who else would teach me that women get hot for harmonica players?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Waiting To Exhale (Bearded Version)

So my friend from Memphis has purchased her ticket and will come visit me in the middle of July. Why am I nervous as heck? We talk on the phone nearly every night, we had a good time when I visited her a few months ago, and I think we will have a good time again. I think it's just my fear of the worst. I remember all the times I thought I was on the road to happiness with all the women I dated before, and they all ended up a horrific crash on the proverbial side of the road. It's like I'm waiting for her to break my heart like all the others, and of course that's not fair to her, but this is my life we're talking about. It's always gone horribly wrong, usually at the exact moment that I think everything's wonderful and can't go wrong. But I can't tell her not to come just because I'm afraid of something that may never happen. And besides, I miss her and I really want to see her. I guess I'll just have to close my eyes and wish--or even pray--that this time, it will be different.

Nothing new happening otherwise. I'm seriously leaning towards moving upstairs in the house whose basement I currently dwell in, for no reason than all my shit is already here and I don't have to worry about moving. My aunt has already told me that I won't be on a lease, so I can leave at any time and get an apartment closer to the city if the hour+ daily commute really starts to dig at me, which it's actually starting to do now, but not enough to make me want to get ready to move again anytime soon. The job is coming along. I don't think there's a worse mistake one can make at a bank job than throwing money in the trash accidentally, and a colleague who started a week or so before me was busted for taking a big-ass UPS envelope with checks in it and wrapping it with the garbage about a month ago. I'm very curious to see what happens with her. If she gets to hang around and doesn't suffer some kind of penalty, I'll know that I can stop panicking about every little small error I might make because obviously it's not looked upon as a big deal by J.P. Morgan Chase.

But the company just did me a big favor, so I can't badmouth Chase. That much. When I called the personnel help line to find out how I can sign up for benefits now that my 90-day probation period is up, I was told that I can't. Apparently in my perpetually tired state I read the rules wrong. I didn't have 31 days after probation ended to sign up for benefits or else lose the rights for the rest of the calendar year, I had 31 days after the last month of probation started so that the benefits could kick in the moment my 90 days were done. That would be May 1 through May 31. Oops. But the helpful representative put me on hold briefly, then came back and allowed me to sign up over the phone for health coverage for the rest of the year (but not for the other benefits, such as vision and dental). I didn't even beg her for this favor, she just heard the desperation in my voice and decided to help a brother out. Customer service in America isn't quite dead yet.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Is It A Revolution If It's Financed By The Dictator?

(Lots of nerdy pro wrestling terms and shit in this post, so please skip now. You have been warned.)

In the mid-1990s, the same two big-time pro wrestling organizations, WWE (then WWF) and WCW, were stinking up the joint with bad wrestling, lack of imagination, and general blandness, and believe me, I have the video tapes to prove it. But Paul Heyman, a former WCW manager who got fired/ran for his life from the stifling atmosphere, started Eastern Championship Wrestling, one of dozens of little "independent" promotions that exist in this country as a sort of proving ground for fledgling wrestlers trying to get to the big time. And because Heyman doesn't like doing things by the book, he started writing scripts for his promotion that were cutting-edge and out-of-the-box, like letting his wrestlers drink and smoke on the way to the ring as a way of getting the characters over with the fans, or having a wrestler suspect his girlfriend/valet of cheating only to have him and the viewers find out that she was fucking another female valet. And because wrestling fans were looking for something, anything, to watch that wouldn't put them to sleep, this promotion became very popular through word-of-mouth and through this new creation called the internet. Heyman them ramped up the violence and edginess and selection of metal and grunge music as a way of setting the theme and changed the name of the promotion to Extreme Championship Wrestling. And ECW went on to capture many hardcore fans because it was in-your-face, take-no-prisoners, "politically incorrect--and damn proud of it!", as one of their commercials used to scream. But all of this attitude was combined with some of the best wrestling in the world, and what that created was a place that longtime fans of workrate and innovation in the ring, like me, had to gravitate towards, like a magnet, or else we felt like we were missing out on something special. I watched several ECW events live at friends' houses (and I have all of their pay-per-view efforts on tape), and it was always a loud, raucous affair, with most of us howling at the unreal moves executed in the ring by wrestlers who could hone their craft without anal-retentive bigwigs looking down their noses going, "Tsk tsk, those 30-minute matches with all the acrobatic moves will never make people watch, you have to have tanned, jacked-up movie stars like Hulk Hogan or The Rock, or else you'll never make it." I was addicted to the point where I didn't watch the Big Two, WWE or WCW, for about a year out of boredom with their products. If it wasn't ECW, I wasn't interested.

Unfortunately, little independent promotions don't make enough money to keep those talented wrestlers around. And slowly, almost all of the guys and girls that made ECW what it was left to go work for one of the Big Two because they could make much more money there. At the same time, both of the Big Two started incorporating elements of edginess and raunch that basically stole the thunder of that innovative style from ECW and put it on a bigger, worldwide stage, and as a result, ECW couldn't grow its audience, couldn't create revenue, and eventually had to fold in early 2001. That same year, WCW also folded, and the only promotion left standing was WWE, owned by the notorious Vince McMahon, who hated the success that WCW and ECW briefly had against him so much that he brought in the key talent from both of those leagues, scripted them to unify as The Alliance, and proceeded to have his WWE Superstars destroy them in matches around the world the rest of the year. Eventually he got bored and cut a lot of those guys from the roster after having them lose at Survivor Series in late 2001.

Now, McMahon didn't just bring in a bunch of guys from WCW and ECW and have his announcers say, "Here's some new guys who used to be popular elsewhere, and now they want to take over WWE." No, he bought the intellectual rights to WCW and ECW after they folded. So, instead of rebuilding one or both of those brands and recreating that alternative to WWE that wrestling fans craved, he basically killed off any notion that those leagues were ever any match for WWE, and tried to kill the leagues' credibility in the process. A funny thing kept happening, though: Any time someone wrestled in WWE who used to work in ECW, in arenas across the country, the vocal section of hardcore ECW fans would yell out, "ECW! ECW! ECW!" And for someone with McMahon's ego, this had to be the most irritating thing. How could people still yell for a bankrupt company whose biggest announced crowd ever was about 3,000 (WWE claims that WrestleMania III in Pontiac, MI, in 1986 drew 93,173) and who never had anywhere near the glitz and glamor and Hollywood-like atmosphere of the great WWE? The reason, of course, was that ECW captured the heart, determination, and desire that the everyday "dude" relates to, and WWE, with its roided-up monsters and no-talent wannabes who made teenage girls squeal, does not and never will capture.

So McMahon hired Paul Heyman, founder of ECW, to write for his company and make some of that magic happen for WWE. Nope, not gonna work. Not when most of Heyman's cutting-edge stuff can't be approved for McMahon's sponsor-heavy network television shows. Then he sent Heyman home, just paid him to sit at home so that no other benefactor could give Heyman the capital necessary to do his thing and embarrass Vince again. Then he let him have one pay-per-view show last year, "ECW One Night Stand," where Heyman could satisfy some of that vocal audience thirsting for an alternative while Vince could try to grab some of those hardcore fans and sway them to watch his product. The show was everything one would expect an ECW show to be--except for the rumored $300 ringside seats and the storyline where the WWE guys storm the ring to try to teach the ECW guys a lesson on who's boss. I watched it with my uncle. It was the only wrestling I watched at someone else's house in the past year. It was the only wrestling that felt like an event that I wanted to catch, and I'm sure a lot of other folks felt that way.

Tonight, "ECW One Night Stand"--part deux; I guess it's a hell of a one-night stand if you feel the need to return--is airing on pay-per-view. I am not watching. I saw the first, and it was great, and I don't need to see it again. You can't top the original. But that's not all that's happening in the world of hardcore. Somehow, McMahon convinced Sci-Fi Network to air a weekly ECW show starting this Tuesday night. Now, how do you think he managed to do that? By showing old ECW footage and scaring the shit out of Sci-Fi execs? Nah, I think he showed them the ratings for his weekly WWE cable show, "Raw," which has been near the top of cable ratings every year of its 14-year existence, and said he could deliver those ratings for this "new" vision of ECW. Heyman has been giving interviews left and right to various media sources touting this "new" vision of ECW, how it's going to be "everything ECW was before, and a whole lot more." But whatever this "new" vision is, it will have to be very very toned down for the new network; very very toned down for WWE's sponsors since WWE, by owning ECW, is now responsible if ECW offends anyone's delicate senses; very very toned down for WWE's short, watered down and diluted to the point of ineffectiveness. And I think that's exactly what McMahon wants. He wants to paint a new picture of ECW in everyone's minds that ultimately will call to mind not success against all odds, not rebelling in the face of what's expected out of a promotion, but mockery and foolishness, and by putting his hands all over this "new" vision of ECW, I predict that's what he will do. You cannot continue to yell out "Join the hardcore revolution!" when the organization you're trying to revolt against owns your ass. This is like Ice-T putting out "Cop Killa Pt. 2" under a new record label owned by the LAPD. No matter what, you just know that the message will be muffled, and therefore slowly silenced.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

You Know You're At A West Side Funeral When...

...people start posing for pictures at the head of the open casket as if they're auditioning for "Weekend At Bernie's 7." We buried my great uncle Jay Wednesday, and before the official funeral began, someone who I believe was one of his daughters brought a 10-year-old boy who must have been her son to the casket, kissed Uncle Jay goodbye, and picked up her daughter who couldn't have been older than 3 and had her kiss him goodbye. They then posed for pics as the son snapped away with the digital, checking the turnout of the pics after every click. Who wants pictures of a corpse? I thought to myself, I know I don't go to many funerals, but is this a new tradition? Apparently it is. I told a co-worker about it the next day, and she said, "Oh yeah, they took pictures at a funeral I went to a couple of weeks ago. I never heard of it either." This same woman was causing other drama as well, according to my aunt. Some woman in a do-rag actually walked in front of the casket during the service, looked around with a lost expression as if she were at the wrong funeral, then spotted her friend--the woman taking pics--threw her hand up as if she saw a homie at a house party, and sat down next to her. It's a shame, because Uncle Jay was a quiet, peaceful, drama-free person, with nary an ill word for anyone. The proceedings were mostly tasteful except for a few ghetto moments like that. Some tattooed guy, I presume one of his sons or grandsons, stepped into the final burial scene where flowers were being thrown onto the casket and decided to toss in his baseball cap. I was so stunned that I just assumed he accidentally dropped it until someone straightened the cap out for him and placed it right side up on the casket. I don't know everything about Uncle Jay, but he was not into baseball. This was some thugged-out attempt at a tribute, and I wasn't impressed.

But the two funerals I attended in the last few months did make me ponder what my final scene might look like. It potentially wouldn't be pretty. Either it would be very quiet and empty except for my family, or some of those women from the last couple of years would show up with awkward speeches about how big my heart was and how human I treated them even though sex was the only reason we all met. I could see "Torrie" saying that even though I wasn't a "superstar in the bedroom," she still liked hanging out with me, and "Sarah" telling everyone how I never flinched when I saw scars on her body from her more dominant partners, and "Shelley" sobbing because she never got to thank me for spending so much money on her and never even fucking her. It could easily turn into the memorial service for Dan Fielding on "Night Court" when all of his "ladies" thought he had been killed in a plane crash, and if you never saw that, let's just say that it was not a tasteful goodbye. Thankfully, whatever happens, I won't be there to see it.