Under 30

I can't complain but sometimes I still do

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bringing you the finest hate mail since 2000!

So The P-C announced in the paper today that I'm leaving and has asked readers to write their favorite memories concerning, um, me. And, well, the hosannas already are coming in.

It was with great joy that I read this morning that Steve Hyden is leaving. One less liberal at the Post~Crescent, but then again you will probably get another to replace him.

Man, I am going to miss Appleton!

In all seriousness, I have recieved a lot of nice notes and words in the past week, and for that I'm grateful, humbled, flattered and slightly embarassed. I'm also not going to post any of that here. The nice stuff is personal and nowhere near as funny. I'll post any good hate mail I get from here on out. Why? Because I am a writer, a journalist, a teacher, a member of this community and a politician.

Shameless self-promotion: Hey, I care about the kids, too!

Boy, am I glad I'm not in high school anymore. And I'm really glad I'm not a student at Kimberly High School.

On Monday the Kimberly school board will decide whether to issue random breath tests for alcohol use at high school events. The proposal is part of the school district's Operation Clean program, which began in 2002 when a survey found a significant number of students were abusing drugs and alcohol. Which, if you have ever attended high school, is about as shocking as learning most kids don't like algebra.

If the policy is enacted, random Kimberly kids will have to suck on a Breathalyser before going to a high school dance. And I thought working up the courage to kiss a girl at 16 was nerve-wracking. Puckering up for a plastic tube in front of prosecutorial teachers and parents is a scholastic indignity that ranks with pep rallies, gravity checks and learning the Irish step dance in gym class.

Drug tests aren't new for Kimberly kids. The high school randomly tests students participating in extracurricular activities, applying for parking permits and joining the Promise Makers, a group of students that has vowed against drug and tobacco use.

Hold on, even the Promise Makers get tested? Maybe the club should be called Your Promise Making, While Appreciated, Isn't Good Enough.

I don't doubt the good intentions of the Kimberly School Board. But random drug tests are a stupid, stupid idea. (Feel free to add a few more stupids.) Not because it's illegal. It is well established that teenagers have as much privacy as Britney Spears inside a school. Random drug tests are dumb because they don't prevent kids from taking drugs. They prevent kids from going to school functions.

Do you remember what it's like to be a teenager? Resentment of authority is a religion to these people. When I was teenager the student body got worked up over not being able to wear hats in the classroom. Hats! I sound like I went to high school in the '20s. This goes well beyond restricting headgear. Drug tests send a clear message, and that message is: "Hey, drunk and stoned kids, we don't want you in a structured environment with adult supervision where young people can have fun without drugs and alcohol. Stay in your friend's basement listening to Pink Floyd. You are easier to ignore there."

Administrators will point toward supposed progress the Operation Clean program has made, but I don't buy it. Don't underestimate the sneakiness of teenagers and how they can manipulate adults into looking away from reality. If a grown-up asks about alcohol, drugs or sex, a kid knows what the right answer is: "No way, sir! Wouldn't do it! I would much rather drink this glass of milk and watch The Disney Channel." And adults are perfectly willing to smile, nod and talk about what little angels they have as Junior raids the liquor cabinet and cues up "Dark Side of the Moon."

Believe me, kids still are drinking and doing drugs in Kimberly, just as they are in every town in the area. I don't have any hard data proving this just as I don't have hard data proving kids are listening to rap music, eating hamburgers and using the word "like" three times in every sentence. But I feel confident taking a leap of faith.

Read the rest here.

Did you watch "The Office" last night?

I did. I liked that they didn't dwell too much on the Jim/Pam thing, especially after the commercials really lathered on the gooey romantic bullcrap. Outing Oscar was a brilliant move, even if Michael continues to inch closer and closer to the line between realistic stupidity and unbelievable stupidity. Oscar already is one of the most fully realized gay characters ever to be on TV. He's one of the few characters I can think of whose gayness isn't used as (1) a cheap joke; (2) shorthand for being weird and interesting or (3) ticket to victimhood. He's as boring as the straight people on the show.

P.S. Does anybody else love that weird-looking redhead with the drinking problem? One of my favorite moments last night was when she put Angela's hand soap on her tongue. Very quick and subtle, but a funny joke, I thought.

What did you think?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Under 30 Blog's Totally Random Fall TV Season Review: Gearing up for "The Office"

I like TV. I know it's cool to be one of those people who doesn't like TV, and maybe I should be climbing mountains and jumping out of airplanes instead of curling up in front of the tube with my "Deadwood" DVDs. Actually, no, there's no way I should be doing anything else.

Armed with only an overstocked DVR, I am trying to catch the best shows of the fall season. Obviously this is not a comprehensive method but I'm just one man, people.

At the risk of sounding like a total girl, I'm pretty excited to see what happens to Jim and Pam tonight on "The Office." The last we saw Jim kissed Pam and admitted his feelings for her. A pretty typical sitcom moment, sure, but the characters are so likable and the arc of their relationship is so well-drawn that the kiss transcended TV cliche to become genuinely memrobable. Yep, I really sound like a girl.

Unless Carell and company really blow it, this ought to be the breakout season for "The Office." The show became a hit last year after struggling in the early going, but after winning the best comedy Emmy and Carell's growing success in movies with "Little Miss Sunshine" (which I haven't seen despite every single person I know saying it's funny), "The Office" appears poised for "Seinfeld"/"Cheers" success.

To whet your appetite for the season premiere, here's an interesting story from Slate about how the original British "Office" has inspired spin-offs in a number of different countries. Writer Liesl Schillinger likes the American version best, as do I, and he/she perfectly sums up why.

It's not that I don't like the U.K. Office, I just don't like it as much. It doesn't reflect the reality of any U.S. workplace I know. The sexism is too blatant and the inside jokes are often too, well, inside. (The DVD of the British series decodes many of these allusions: "Charlie Dimmock," in case you didn't know, is the hostess of a BBC garden show; the chant "Oggie, Oggie, Oggie, Oi, Oi, Oi!" has to do with Cornish tin miners or West Country rugby teams, depending on whom you ask.)

But, more subtly, the base-line mood of David Brent's workplace—resignation mingled with self-loathing—is unrecognizably alien to our (well, my) sensibility. In the American office, passivity mingles with rueful hopefulness: An American always believes there's something to look forward to. A Brit does not, and finds humor in that hopelessness.

I'd like to add that the American version also boasts the very foxy Jenna Fischer, the receptionist of my dreams.

A football-friendly appendectomy tutorial

Don't know if you watched the "Monday Night Football" game between the Steelers and Jags, a 9-0 borefest that was the lowest scoring game in "MNF" history. If you didn't, I'm posting the highlight of the game above. It is sideline reporter Michele Tafoya's brief tutorial on the particulars of Ben Roethlisberger's appendectomy. (Those last two words took me 15 minutes to type.)

When a tutorial on the particulars of Ben Roethlisberger's appendectomy is the highligt of a football game, you know NFL Films won't be digging up John Facenda to do the highlights.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Under 30 Blog's Totally Random Fall TV Season Review: "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"

I like TV. I know it's cool to be one of those people who doesn't like TV, and maybe I should be climbing mountains and jumping out of airplanes instead of curling up in front of the tube with my "Deadwood" DVDs. Actually, no, there's no way I should be doing anything else.

Armed with only an overstocked DVR, I am trying to catch the best shows of the fall season. Obviously this is not a comprehensive method but I'm just one man, people.

"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," 9 p.m. Monday, NBC

There is no mistaking an Aaron Sorkin show. How's that? It's the dialogue. What about the dialogue? It's rapid fire, witty, like the cast of "Friends" watched a Howard Hawks marathon. Sounds wonderful except it doesn't seem very realistic. People get enough realism. You want realism look out the window. Maybe people have had enough of Sorkin. "The West Wing" was nice and all, but didn't the over-caffeinated banter come off a wee bit smug and self-satisfied after the first couple of seasons?

Sorry, I need a breather from all the snappiness. Trying to make it in Sorkin's world of young urban professionals who are never at a loss for words is an exhausting enterprise. At least when Kevin Smith puts ridiculously overstuffed dialogue in your mouth you get to be stoned and covered in Chee-tos on Jason Lee's couch. Sorkin's characters never seem to sleep, and his relentless steadicam never stops moving.

At least with "The West Wing" the safety of the free world was at stake. His new show, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," is about a long-running "Saturday Night Live" style sketch comedy show in desperate need of a makeover after the show's producer Wes Mandell (Judd Hirsch) goes on an on-air rant about the evilness of network television. (An obvious "Network" reference Sorkin underlines several times by explicitly referencing the film. Ripping something off is bad; admitting you ripped it off is good.) Foxy studio executive Amanda Peet decides "Studio 60" needs a jolt of creativity and veneer of credibility, so she hires hotshot director/writer team Matt and Danny, who were fired from the show four years prior and went on to acclaim in the movies.

Matt and Danny are played by Bradley Whitford, a Sorkin vet, and Matthew Perry, whose smirky portrayal of Chandler Bing on "Friends" is one of the most annoying things to come out of American pop culture in the past 20 years. Perry is a little less smirky here, and I was surprised that I didn't only not hate him but kinda liked him as the idealistic fudge-up writer. Whitford is perhaps the perfect Sorkin actor, the De Niro to his Scorsese. He's obviously smart, funny and incredibly deft at spitting out run-on sentences packed with Very Important Thoughts. He's also more than a little smarmy, and unabashed about showing how clever clever he is. Whitford is basically Sorkin's Roman a clef, and a channel for the writer's talent and limitations.

I gotta admit, the "Studio 60" pilot captivated me. It was fast-paced, entertaining and set up enough spinning plot plates to make me curious about next week. But I also loved "The West Wing" in the early going. The problem is Sorkin's talent can't outrun his limitations, chief among them being his massive self-regard. "Studio 60" has a similar vibe of "I'm out here creating quality TV, dammit, and aren't you lucky for it?" He puts his feelings about the rest of TV in the mouth of Hirsch in the pilot-opening scene when his character breaks down and tramps in front of the camera to cry about the battle between art and commerce on television, and how art is "getting its ass kicked." Does Sorkin actually watch TV? If any medium is suffering from an art/commerce imbalance, it's the movies. TV is more daring that ever. Hey Aaron, did you notice NBC let you make a show where you mock the network and satirize one of its biggest franchises? Art on TV is doing just fine, I think.

So, I'm going to keep watching "Studio 60" and hope the show doesn't eventually get on my nerves like "The West Wing." Fat chance. Don't bring that Oscar the Grouch attitude around here. Nice reference. Thanks. I was being sarcastic. I know. I chose to ignore your sarcasm and go along my merry way.

I think I have a sideache.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

You thought Supernova was stupid? No, you really don't know stupid

I was big fan of "Rock Star: Supernova," which recently wrapped up its summer run by picking a monkey-faced emo kid named Lukas Rossi to be the lead singer of a band that includes Tommy Lee, the Metallica bassist who is not Cliff Burton and the guy who replaced Izzy in Guns 'n Roses.

Sadly, there's already a really lame group named Supernova so this somewhat-supergroup had to change its name to ... Rock Star Supernova. That's right, the band from "Rock Star: Supernova" is going to be called Rock Star Supernova.

This might be the worst band name of all time. That's a bold statement, I know, since you could aruge it's not even the worst name in the history of supergroups (Audioslave, Asia, Blind Faith, etc.) But my gut tells me this is worse. Any opinions out there?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Who wants to see a middle-aged woman hit on Bob Barker?

I don't get "The Price is Right." I mean, I get the concept of the show. Even for a game show, "The Price is Right" has a pretty basic premise. I just don't get why this show is so popular. It's decent enough, I guess. I just like my game shows to be a little trashier and ironcially funnier. "The Price is Right" is trashy right down to the set that hasn't been updated since 1979, but not quite trashy enough. Maybe when they had an announcer named Rod Roddy, but not now.

Still, new generations latch on to "The Price is Right" and make pilgrimmages to Studio City to congregate with other screaming lovers of competitive commerce. And the object of their affection is Bob Barker, a 2,000-year-old fanny-grabbing lecher whose life-long practice of the game show arts has left him looking like a tan saddle bag. Apparently some women find this attractive. The clip below features a woman hoping for some Viagra-poppin' action with really, really Ol' Bob.

Under 30 salutes pork rinds

The other day I was staring at The Post-Crescent's break room vending machine when something happened that made me question the fabric of truth and logic that supposedly holds our society together.

I saw a bag of pork rinds.

I closed my eyes, shook my head and looked again. Nope, still there. Baken-Ets brand, "Hot 'N Spicy" flavor, net weight 1 ounce. There it was smack dab in the middle of the other selections, between Rold Gold pretzels and Cool Ranch Doritos, just daring you to punch C-5 and sell your soul for 70 cents.

I couldn't believe it. This was a vending machine located hundreds of miles from where you normally see pork rinds, i.e. places where folks have uncles named Cooter and gun racks are issued at birth by the local municipality.

This had to be a mistake. Otherwise, what's next? Mince meat pie squares? Grits-flavored crackers? Larry the Cable Guy's "Git-R-Done" brownies?

A break room vending machine essentially is a perfect democracy. People buy what they want, and at the end of the day the guy who stocks the machine knows he needs more tropical Skittles and fewer beef-n-cheese sticks. If elections were as fair as the average vending machine, everybody would vote.

But even vending machines fail from time to time. That is the only credible explanation for why a small plastic bag of pork rinds stuck out like an obscene gesture among The P-C's bountiful food options. Well, maybe not the only explanation. There is another, darker possibility I'm not quite comfortable considering.

Do my co-workers like pork rinds?

It's possible (heck, likely) there's an underground cult of pork rind-lovers gathered somewhere in this building. They sneak in the break room when nobody is looking, punch up C-5 on the vending machine and quickly scamper away with processed pig remains before being discovered. They might be ashamed of themselves, but like drug addicts, vampires and Flavor Flav, they cannot help themselves.

How do I know this? (Here comes the Keyser Soze moment): I AM ONE OF THEM!

Read the rest here.

Shameless self-promotion: Actual, live bone-crushing mayhem

This is what it feels like to be hit in the face with a metal chair: It kills.

That's according to Jim Duda, 25, of Kaukauna, who wrestles under the name Assassin in an Appleton-based wrestling league called Packerland Pro Wrestling. Most assassins deal with guns, poisons and the occasional throwing star. Duda's method involves stripping down to tight red shorts and repeatedly kicking an adversary in the face and stomach.

Duda, who has a friendly face reminiscent of Green Bay Packers tackle Mark Tauscher, can't count how many chairs have been cracked against his forehead. Ten? Twenty? Your guess is as good as his. Duda's best chair story is the one where he took three smacks to the head in one match, a beat down that culminated with the chair being set on fire and drop-kicked into his face.

This is not wrestling as you know it from television. This is actual, live, bone-crushing mayhem, and it happens every Sunday afternoon in a large yellow ring erected behind Chris Bassett's house on Appleton's north side.

Bassett, a former World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) wrestler and owner of Packerland Pro Wrestling, trains local wrestlers to be lean, mean, smack-n-smash machines. Then he puts on wrestling matches booked at local bars and surprises people expecting the glorified soap operas of televised wrestling shows.

"That's what sells tickets," Bassett said. "Because everyone goes, 'Oh, wrestling is fake. And then they come to our show and say, 'Holy cripes! Did you see that? He hit him for real!'"

If there were doubt over how real is real, Duda took a break from some serious assassination action during a recent training session on a sunny, late August Sunday afternoon to fetch a metal chair out of Bassett's garage. It was black and speckled with rust, and the backrest was half-smashed.

"That's the contour of my head," he said, pointing to a cranium-sized dent in the seat. So, yeah, Duda gets slightly peeved when people call him a faker.

"Yeah, it gets under your skin," Duda said, "because I've been doing this every Sunday for seven years."

If you play your cards right, your head could be denting metal chairs in no time. Bassett is looking for four to six wannabe wrestlers to train this winter and hopefully unleash at PPW shows throughout Wisconsin by spring. But finding the right guy is tough. Last summer a dozen prospective wrestlers came out for a try out, and they all "collapsed, puked or were carried out to the car by their loved ones," Bassett said.

"They're going to me, 'Mr. Bassett, this is not what we thought it was. When does the acting start?' I said, 'Son, you're not even close to the acting part yet. You haven't even gotten through the warm-up. This is what we do to warm up to start to wrestle and you're puking and passing out, and you're quitting already? Get back in the ring.'"

Read the rest of the story here.