Monday, February 25, 2008

Feeding the Warrior

Dick's Sporting Goods struck advertising gold with those Lance Armstrong "Feed the Warrior" spots. As funny as it is to see Armstrong run on a treadmill while barking at a meek customer to "kill the coward within," I'm not sure he's acting. I also can't get this particular line out of my mind: "Remember, pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever."

So I thought of Lance when I went to the gym at 5:30 a.m. today to feed my long-dormant warrior.

My last excuse for not working out crumbled when a reputable gym opened up about a mile from my house. There was no point in pretending I'd go in the evening when dinner, homework and laundry called. If I was going to do it, I was going to have to go at an hour before the obstacles started piling up. I am not a morning person, so I fully expected to be miserable once the alarm went off.

But something surprising happened: I was kinda psyched. Not only was I doing something just for myself, but I was doing it in the absence of requests for water/juice/snack, fights over "Peter Pan" vs. "Spy Kids" and meandering conversations about my husband's disc golf hobby. It was dark and ridiculously early, but it was my time.

The workout was difficult (as it should be) but endurable, and when it came to that last, awful lunge, I just pretended that my trainer was Lance Armstrong. Can you imagine telling him that, no, you can't do one more curl or five more minutes on the elliptical machine because it's too hard? Quitting lasts forever. Forever!

Of course, the trick is to do it again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that for pretty much the rest of my life. That's not easy for someone who has always viewed exercise as the means to an end instead of a necessary constant. But I'm almost 40 now, and the consequences of not working out — especially considering my plump genes and high-strung nature — are pretty grim. A woman in my book club who is in her mid-50s and in fabulous shape laid it out for me this way: "I'm telling you; keep your body moving. Start exercising now. Otherwise, you get to be my age and it all just turns to mush."

So while my inner warrior is still slightly skeptical, it is awake. That's a start.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Stewart Copeland: Midlife Crush

Sometimes I'm grateful that the Internet didn't exist back when I was a kid with endless hours of free time and white-hot obsessions. Otherwise, I'd have gone down the rabbit hole of Monkees dedication sites and "Family Ties" fan fiction. The only thing saving me now, frankly, is the need to hold down a full-time job and speak to my family once in awhile.

Still, every now and then, the most random thing or person grabs my attention and reduces me to a panting, Googling, 13-year-old fangirl. Which brings me to Stewart Copeland.

In an unusual streak of good luck, I got face-value tickets to see The Police twice last year — once with my best friend in Tampa and again with my slightly less stoked husband in Atlanta. Both shows were fantastic, which was not a surprise. But what did surprise me was how freaking amazing a drummer Copeland is. (I know; duh.) It's one thing to hear his beat-making on a CD; quite another to see it live. He played the hell out of their 90-minute set, and when he went to work on an elaborate gong display during "Wrapped Around Your Finger," the crowd in both cities went nuts. It was gangster.

And a midlife crush was born. The sight of this gray-haired, fiftyish guy — wearing a sweatband! — suddenly became, like, the hottest thing ever. Why did it take a reunion tour for me to fully appreciate his awesomeness? Maybe because like every other teenaged girl back in the day, I was focused on the handsome, media-anointed frontman. Typical.

This is not to slight Andy Summers, who is a guitar god and a fine writer. But there is something extra appealing about Copeland's unhinged, gangly energy. Remember that moment in the "Roxanne" video where it looks like he's going to fall backward off the stool and his arms just keep windmilling around? That's what it is. And as a former newspaper journalist, I'm a sucker for a celebrity who gives candid, insightful interviews. His now-infamous blog item about their "first disaster gig" on the reunion circuit is classic and very, very funny. Look it up.

Random? Yes. A quarter century late? Guilty as charged. But if digging Stewart Copeland is wrong, I don't want to be right.

Now, excuse me. I've got some Googling to do.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Guilty Pleasures, Vol. 1

I loathe hipsters, but I have been known to judge people based on their musical preferences. Still, I try not to overdo it by making unnecessary references to Wilco or Lupe Fiasco. As in the previous sentence.

But even the most insufferable music snobs have a list of Certified Guilty Pleasures, and I am no exception. A bad or challenging day demands my Guilty Pleasures Mix, Vol. 1: eleven cheese-powered anthems made for air guitar and tossing up devil horns. They made it possible for me to drive across town at 7:15 this morning, without weeping, to transport my rambunctious* 8-year-old to an out-of-school "refocusing" program. It would be a perfect compilation if not for the grievous omission of Night Ranger's "Sister Christian." Mistakes were made.

And just to be clear, there is nothing ironic about my affection for the following:

1. "Alive and Kicking" by Simple Minds: This is almost too good to qualify as a guilty pleasure, but the over-emoting sends it just across the line. Remember the awesomely generic video with the band singing on a random hilltop? Of course you do. Soul-stirring!

2. "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey: Show me the man who doesn't love this song, and I'll show you an utterly broken human being. Why did it take the final episode of "The Sopranos" to give this song the legitimacy it so richly deserves? Aren't we all just strangers on that mythical midnight train going anywhere? Steeeeeve!

3. "Oh, Sherrie" by Steve Perry: I'm not sure why Steve Perry needed to go solo to produce this, since it sounds JUST LIKE a Journey song, but whatever. Who is this Sherrie, and why does she keep on hurting Steve? Would she really be better off alone? Did she, indeed, hold on? It's a question for the ages, man.

4. "Panama" by Van Halen: How awesome are Eddie Van Halen's guitar licks in this song? Hagar, Schmagar. Even now, I would pay good money to hear David Lee Roth growl, "We're running a little bit hot tonight." Yes, David Lee. We are.

5. "Pour Some Sugar On Me" by Def Leppard: A filthy, bombastic, high fructose delight. I have yet to meet the person who doesn't secretly like this song. Because HE DOESN'T EXIST.

6. "Round and Round" by Ratt: If I were a stripper, this would be my pole-dancing jam. Still can't hear it without thinking of Milton Berle, though.

7. "Valotte" by Julian Lennon: It's the only ballad here, but it has enough pathos for an iPod Shuffle full of ballads. Damn shame that this wasn't the beginning of a long, successful music career for Julian.

8. "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi: Because life is such a blur of gigs and groupies that we can only tell the day by the bottle that we drink.

9. "What a Fool Believes" by the Doobie Brothers: The only '70s song on this list is propelled by what sounds like a child's Casio keyboard and the soulful, indecipherable vocal stylings of Michael McDonald.

10. "You Give Love a Bad Name" by Bon Jovi: It just rocks. Okay?

11. "Working for the Weekend" by Loverboy: It's indefensible. The synthesizers. The fifth-grade lyrics that rhyme "start" with "start". It's the sound of dozens of telemarketers tearing out of the parking lot on a Friday afternoon, headed to happy hour at the nearest Applebees. Hell, yeah.

I've told you mine. Now it's your turn.

* Evil

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pony Up

My daughter has terrible, terrible taste.

How else to explain her desire to attend the atrocity that was "My Little Pony: Live" on Sunday? Seriously, I paid 18 bucks to watch struggling actors in pastel-colored pony costumes talk (and talk and talk and talk) about putting on the World's Largest Tea Party. Except the party never really got off the ground. It was like listening to a bunch of cheerful potheads — who happened to be dressed like horses — go, "Dude, we should totally throw a tea party."

I understand that little girls like ponies and playthings with long hair to comb. But MLP is from my kid sister's generation of toys, and the appeal of it remains lost on me. I mean, why not just play with a doll? You can't really dress a pony except to put a tutu over its hind legs, which makes no sense. Plus, you can't work out your schoolyard relationship issues with toy ponies. You can't reasonably pretend that four-legged Minty is the bitch who came between you and your best friend Pinkie Pie — yours! — on the spring field trip.

I'd have been happy to take little C to a real farm to see real ponies, but she wanted a tacky drag show instead. Now I know how my mom felt when the book fair came to my school, and instead of choosing classics, I spent her hard-earned money on "Lee Majors: Bionic Superstar." Karma.

The show would have been unbearable had we not been accompanied by my hilarious friend Mark, who gets paid to write about legitimate cultural events. He also had the good sense to raise cats instead of children, so he isn't asked to do this kind of thing on a regular basis. Seeing scores of dead-eyed parents paying for pink and lavender crap surely proved the wisdom of that decision. I think he called it "The World's Largest Shakedown."

So a dragon with a Eurotrash accent came onstage and warmed up the crowd for the ponies. Much gamboling and singing ensued, including trips to the post office (to mail the invitations), a rap/disco mashup (with turntable scratching) and an in-depth discussion of streamers. After a LOT more singing, it was revealed that ringleader Pinkie Pie forgot to bring the Darjeeling. Um, if you're throwing the World's Biggest Tea Party, isn't that kind of the point? The ending was confetti-covered and abrupt. And I left thirsty, but not before shelling out another five dollars for an MLP: Live flag, which I've almost been stabbed with several times.

Apparently we got off cheap. Another friend of mine paid something like $49 for Thomas the Tank Engine tickets, and she's not even sure her son enjoyed the show.

Generation Z: uncultured AND ungrateful.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Thrill is Gone

Because my kids are pop music junkies, YouTube has proved to be an excellent babysitter. My 8-year-old son loves to obsess over the plot points of particularly loopy videos from the '80s ("Why are they playing their instruments with a bunch of trash blowing around?"), and my 3-year-old daughter has become quite the decisive critic ("I don't like Sting.")

In a fit of nostalgia, I dragged some vintage Michael Jackson out of the vault last week. My daughter was immediately smitten by the image of this non-threatening (seeming) kid with the sweet smile and killer dance moves. Who was he? Could she dance with him? Could she BE him? It was a powerful reminder of how effortlessly appealing Michael Jackson was at the peak of his powers. Of course, I wouldn't let one of my kids within a mile of him now.

Pop culture critics currently are commenting on the 25th anniversary of "Thriller" and the seismic effect it had on the entertainment landscape. It's one of those generational you-had-to-be-there moments that's impossible to fully explain to someone who wasn't. As much as I like watching the Beatles' Ed Sullivan performance, I realize there's no way for me to fully understand what it meant. Michael Jackson has been ripped off so many times that it's hard to imagine a time when no one, absolutely no one, danced or sang that way. Usher and Chris Brown are fantastic dancers, but as Paste magazine writer Nick Marino points out in the current issue, it's just pathetic to watch any of them pay tribute to Jackson. It's depressing, because it only underscores how special his talent was and the degree to which it's been obscured by scandal and plastic surgery. As badly as I feel for Britney Spears, does anybody hear "Baby One More Time" or "Toxic" and mourn the demise of a musical genius?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

'The Most Contemptible of Holidays'

A male friend of mine recently referred to Valentine's Day as "the most contemptible of all the holidays," and he's right. To put this in context, both of us are married.

I can think of lots things that are romantic: A vase full of gorgeous daisies on a Monday, Frank Sinatra on the stereo, or hot pancakes and coffee waiting on a Sunday morning. Expressions of affection at gunpoint aren't romantic. And neither is a day that, as far as I can tell, exists only to make singles feel bad and help drugstores unload surplus Whitman's Samplers. When I hit Publix last night to buy Valentine's Day flotsam for my kids' classmates, I saw a few hapless men standing in front of the picked-over greeting card display. It was clear that they were expected to show up with something, but their hearts weren't in it. I felt sorry for them.

My husband and I used to do the dinner-out thing on Feb. 14, but we finally realized that waiting 45 minutes outside of a Carrabba's was a crappy way to say "I love you." I didn't like the stench of obligation or the idea of an overpriced bauble purchased at the last minute. That's what Christmas is for. Besides, it's way hotter when he buys me a magazine I don't have or insists I sleep in on a random Saturday.

If it were up to me, those grim-faced guys in Publix would be off the hook today. Because either they're already good partners to their significant others, in which case no roses are needed, or they're hoping a $2.99 card will somehow make up for months of emotional unavailability and unfulfilling sex. Call me crazy, but I don't think it will.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Talkin' About Their Generation — Endlessly

A few weeks ago, a colleague and I went to a roundtable discussion on generational issues in the workplace. The topic wasn't new to me, but the information was good. There was a nice representation of Baby Boomers (more on them in a bit), Gen Xers like me and Gen Yers. We talked mostly about how our workplaces were or weren't engaging our younger customers and employees.

What I heard was troubling. Several twentysomethings said their Boomer bosses act as if people younger than them are aliens. They don't understand their habits or ways of communicating, so they either dismiss them or waste precious time on data compilation instead of listening to their capable employees who are in that age group. I sensed quite a bit of frustration. It simply added more fuel to the fire of my annoyance with Boomers in general.

I don't hate Baby Boomers. What I hate is the arrogance and sense of entitlement that comes from being a huge, influential group with power. They did some good stuff. They did some bad stuff. Every generation does, and it leaves a blueprint for subsequent generations to reject or revise. But the Boomers just won't get off the stage. They don't seem willing to even share it. (They also won't stop writing books about the '60s. Please, Tom Brokaw. Stop.)

I get it: Because of their numbers, anything they do or think counts as significant. But there's something off-putting about the way Boomers come across sometimes. Younger people aren't appreciative enough of the doors that were opened for them. Younger people are wasting time online instead of changing the world, man. Younger people want everything handed to them instead of earning it. Their ideas are confusing and filled with strange jargon. Their music sucks and they want to listen to it on tiny headphones! At the office!

I'm stunned by how dismissive some Boomers can be of twentysomethings in particular. Look, Gen Y is a bit too optimistic and angst-free for my taste, but my brother and sister are in their 20s, and they are among the world's coolest people. They work hard (kinda). They're smart and curious about the world. They have good ideas. They've helped me make sense of things like this wacky music-downloading craze and Facebook. They're one of the main reasons I know that great music continued to be recorded after 1996. I even forgave my sister for referring to Sting as "an old white man." But to hear some Boomers tell it, all of Gen Y is slacking off to go to Zumba classes, download pirated music and build these silly things known as "Web sites."

The absolute worst is talking to black Boomers about race. They are almost hostile in their insistence that younger blacks are apathetic, shiftless types who have been co-opted by The Man. Yet, a chorus of Civil Rights-era giants called Barack Obama out for having the temerity to run for president. I guess he should have asked for permission first.

As Boomers should well know, young(er) people have a nasty habit of not doing things according to established playbooks. It doesn't matter that they don't understand kids and their crazy habits. What matters is that they are sharing a society with at least two generations of people who view the world differently than they do. And one of these generations is practically middle-aged — not exactly a bunch of half-baked whippersnappers.

This will probably come back to bite me the day one of my kids fires up a song that my ears interpret as "noise." But if it kills me, I will resist a tirade about walking 10 miles in the snow to buy a Tribe Called Quest CD.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Wanted: Black Girl Geeks

Quick: Name the last black, female geek/misfit you saw in a film. Any film. Go ahead; I'll wait.

Yeah, that's what I thought. I'm not sure when this non-trend started to irk me, but I reached full-blown annoyance around the time "Juno" came out. Don't get me wrong; on paper, "Juno" looks like the kind of movie I'd love and certainly would have embraced in my teens. And I am not hating on Diablo Cody, who has at least seems to have given young women a movie that isn't about shopping and makeovers.

Yet, the trailers got me thinking: When will it occur to someone to whip up a female character in this tradition who isn't white? The closest thing I can think of is "Bend it Like Beckham," which came out of the U.K. (of course) — though don't get me started on how Kiera Knightley became the big movie star instead of gorgeous Parminder Nagra. Seriously. Don't.

I remember when I could go a whole year without seeing a black female in ANY film, so I guess I should be happy that we're occasionally allowed to be sidekicks, uberdivas, lawyers and pretty girlfriends. Thanks almost entirely to Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long and the fabulous Regina King, I've even seen a few characters I actually recognize. But when is Hollywood going to give the young, black female misfit some love? You know, the one who plays the oboe, isn't cool/streetwise, isn't being courted by Nick Cannon and knows her Hal Jordans from her Kyle Rayners. And I'm not talking about the girl who is the default genius in a clique of unusually attractive 15-year-olds, either. That doesn't count.

One of the best films I saw last year was "Year of the Dog" with my girl Regina and Molly Shannon. Regina was good in her supporting role as Shannon's ditzy, wide-eyed co-worker, and it was nice to see her play against type. And Molly was pitch-perfect as a woman who cracks up after her beloved dog dies, but I couldn't help wondering how Regina would have interpreted that quirky, thisclose-to-crazy role.

Maybe I'd be more optimistic if Tyler Perry or any of the other black filmmakers making "positive" movies had demonstrated a grasp of subtlety, irony or characters not motivated by step competitions. I'm still figuring out who to blame for the box-office failure of "Something New," which got my hopes up for more offbeat, black romantic heroines. It was such a nice step in the right direction.

Look, if we're ready for our first black president, we're ready for Michael Cera to have a black stepsister or something.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Read This Book

God knows there are plenty of things about racism that aren't funny. In general, race is a topic that many people discuss badly, either out of ignorance, self-righteousness, fear or lack of access to PBS and the History Channel. That's why "A Practical Guide to Racism" is so fabulous, because it manages to show how stupid racism is while delivering laughs on every page. If satire makes you edgy, this is not the book for you. But I'm personally recommending it to all of my friends and family members.

Like any person of color in America, I've had my brushes with dummies who have expressed surprise at my decent vocabulary and grooming (seriously). Plus, I'm married to a guy who was raised by Civil Rights activists. But I'm thankful to be living in a time when we can laugh about the idiocy of racism itself, if not its legacy. "A Practical Guide to Racism" is laugh-out-loud hilarious, and some of the old-fashioned illustrations almost made me spit out my coffee in the middle of the bookstore. If a drawing of a suited Brer Rabbit described as "An African-American man in formal dress" doesn't make you laugh, I don't know what will. Besides, how can you not love a book with a chapter on Mer-people?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

I (heart) Tim Drake

Reading mainstream comics often means making peace with characters who are written as types instead of actual people. The medium requires enough suspension of disbelief as it is, so is it asking too much to have a character or two who's relatable?

I've always had a soft spot for Robin, who has the unenviable job of working alongside Batman. Batman is a lot of things: hardcore, brilliant, sexy. But he's also zealous nutjob and a horrible boss. It's a wonder none of the three Robins ever cracked and cut one of his grappling cables out of sheer rage. I worry for this boy.

Dick Grayson was the first, and he's done nicely for himself as Nightwing. I like him. We all know Jason Todd was a whiny little snot, though he didn't deserve a crowbar beat-down from the Joker. But the current Robin, Tim Drake, is a kid I would have liked to hang out with in high school. Granted, I'm basing this almost solely on the way Geoff Johns has written him in "Teen Titans" (so don't send me your "what about?" screeds). Still, he is easily the most likable of D.C.'s teen superheroes.

He's not a sullen brat (see: Kent, Conner) and he doesn't seem generic and unworthy of his status (see: Sandmark, Cassie). He's scrappy. Yes, he got his ass handed to him by Deathstroke, but he wasn't afraid to fight him, either. Plus, he had that cute black girlfriend, Zoanne. Like any teenager, he has moments of insecurity and self-doubt — but he gets the job done. Personally, I think a well-executed film about Robin would be just as interesting as the best Batman films. And unlike the permanently stalled Wonder Woman project, I might actually get to see it before I die.

Play Right, or Play Alone

A few weeks ago, ran a great commentary about how much it sucks to play with your kids. I mean, does anybody over the age of 3 enjoy Chutes and Ladders? But if you've got kids, you gotta play with 'em from time to time. My problem isn't the playing, per se, it's the fact that my kids insist on playing incorrectly.

Take Barbie. My daughter got a bunch of doll furniture and incredibly cool accessories for her Barbies, everything from salad bowls to bed linens. I would have killed for this stuff when I was twice her age. Push a button, and the washing machine and dryer actually churn. But instead of arranging the china properly and putting the fake flowers in the appropriate vases, she wants to "improvise." She wants to put the fake food on the sofa, the basket of apples on the end table, and cram as many serving dishes as possible on the breakfast table. So naturally I tried to show her how to arrange everything just so, so that Barbie and her friends wouldn't wake up to rotting fruit and milk in the living room the next day. Her response was typical: "Mommy, you need to get your own." And that is why her arrangement looks like crap.

My son just got these cool Transformers action figures, and we took them out in the backyard today for some old-fashioned combat. He was generous and let me be Optimus Prime for a few minutes while he did the villain thing with Megatron. But you know, there are only so many ways you can knock action figures around and send them flying through the air in slow motion, John Woo style. Plus, my son's dialogue was cliched and didn't really advance the plot. To make it interesting, I dug a pit in the dirt, see? And then I put twigs and leaves on top of the pit so that Megatron would walk on top of it and FALL INTO THE PIT. Paging Michael Bay! All I wanted to do was take a few pictures of this little action scene because it was cool, and my son was all, "Um, can you do that later?"

I'm not playing with them anymore.