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Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Body Rock

I began working out on a more serious basis recently. I’m actually hitting the gym. After my knee suddenly bummed out on me a week ago and the evil weather kept me from even running on the weekends for the past two weeks, I began to worry about being too sedentary. That and my arms could really use some more strength.

I realize most of the societal criticism these days gets thrown at the way women are seen on television and magazines. Hell, Barbie has been taking shit for two decades because her figure is literally impossible to replicate in person. (Honestly, does anyone even play with Barbie anymore?) But what hasn’t been quite as noticed are the steroid-hulked proportions of action figures marketed to young boys. If a man tried to bulk up the way a more modern, comic-book-ized action figure did, his biceps would literally be the size of basketballs. It would require the use of steroids, and even then, it would be a real stretch to say it was possible.

I am about to break one of the most sacred rules of the unwritten Man Laws by admitting this, but here goes: I have issues with my body. I’ve had them since I was about 15, and I’m not alone. Men look at the magazines and go to movies too, and we feel the same pressure as women: To bulk up and become that perfect Adonis figure, 220 pounds of pure muscle like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. The expectations men feel to look like that and be the ideal man of a Playboy model’s dreams may not be as overt, but they’re there. The universal Code of Masculinity just clamps our lips, and we tend not to speak up about this pressure because it’s not manly to do so.

My exercise regimen has wavered and fluxed in all kinds of directions over the years, but it never disappeared completely. At 15 I was doing countless sit-ups and pushups, spending a lot of outside time dashing along the dirt trails at the lip of Cazenovia Creek in South Buffalo. I still do those things in various forms, although sit-ups and pushups have been almost completely exiled from my routine; pushups, in fact, are a form of masochism for me because one of my arms is significantly longer than the other, and so I have to prop the short arm up with books.

At 30, I’m probably now in the best shape I’ve ever been in, especially in a city where post-high-schoolers either head toward the closest exit roads with their degrees under their arms or load up on beer and begin leading with large guts by 20. There’s no possible way anyone could even begin to call me fat. I credit my current shape with a series of good habits which just happen to keep me healthy:

-In 2002, I took up bicycling, and I have remained a fervent cyclist ever since. I’ve become so synonymous with cycling that a large number of my Chicago friends instinctively think of cycling when my name is brought up.

-At various points, I took up running, only to ditch it later. It’s a habit I’m still in. My latest running kick is now going on five months.

-Frustrated with my bottle-a-day pop habit and my apparent inability to cut back, for New Year’s in 2010 I made the decision to quit it cold turkey. Like all New Year’s resolutions, I do have contests with this one, but for the most part my pop intake has been cut by around probably 80 percent.

-I almost never eat ice cream or cheesecake anymore. They’re twice-a-year treats for me these days. Three times, tops.

-Although I still eat many foods with dairy products, around 90 percent of my pure dairy intake has been axed. I’ve largely turned into a soy child. My only real dairy indulgence is cheese.

-If there’s a meat choice which involves a bird, I’m usually going to eat the bird.

-I stopped eating french fries a long time ago.

And yet, I still have some of the old padding, and I don’t understand why it’s still there. I have a sweet tooth, but I also have a high metabolism. Now, keep in mind that absolutely no one regards me as fat, stocky, bellied, or even as having a few extra pounds. I can – and in fact frequently do – wear extremely tight shirts, and no one thinks it’s inappropriate for a person of my figure. One of my friends, Ty, has even likened me to Jim Morrison. And yet, I regard myself as fat and ugly. The treadmill I run a morning half-mile on is an apt metaphor for my fitness goal: Always running upward on a hill that never ends. (I set the treadmill on an incline.) It’s probably just another way the bullying I faced took its toll.

The perfect figure that all of the beautiful people in the media seem to have is only attainable by about 10 percent of the population. I know that, and I’m only beginning to realize that I’m never going to be among those 10 percent. It says a lot about the pressure I feel about having to look a certain way that I hate the way my body looks.


SOPA/PIPA – My Letter to the Government

Dear Senator,

I guess it would be redundant to ask for the release of the monetary figures it took to get this bill a foothold in Congress. Exchanges for bills like that tend to happen only under the table. Perhaps that’s part of SOPA’s appeal – stopping The Smoking Gun from blowing the lid off ny more Congressional scandals which the public should know about.

You’ll have to forgive me for automatically assuming corporate payoffs were involved in getting SOPA and PIPA so much as a mention uttered under one Congressman’s breath. We have a particular law in this country stating, in these exact words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Congress shall make no law… Abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. What part of that clause is so difficult to understand?

Understand that as a writer who has created a name for himsef online, I believe that the First Amendment – and the issues of free speech and free press in particular – might be kind of, sort of important. As I tend to frequently employ harsh language, I am seeing a future of a thousand tickets, at the very least, which I couldn’t possibly afford.

As one who has a masterful command of the English language, I can also see a whole lot of wiggle room in the vague, technology-deficient, broad language. Interpretations tend to vary quite a bit, and the desires of the Attorney General and organizations like the MPAA and RIAA will probably bend and flex according to whatever interpretation suits their momentary needs. The RIAA in particular stands to be abusive on a level which rivals the Kim family in North Korea. Lest we not forget, the RIAA is an organization which has never quite come to terms with the very existence of the internet, and they have a ridiculous history of trying to sentence ten-year-olds to years in jail for downloading three songs which cost a collective total of about 15 cents.

Furthermore, it has been claimed that SOPA and PIPA will create thousands of new jobs. I’m well-read on the basic mechanics of a free-market economy, and I can safely say this claim is just bunk thrown out by SOPA and PIPA supporters attempting to parlay the needs of the American publc into support so they can keep their profits and hopefully get some fresh new lawsuit cash from the aforementioned flexible interpretations. As SOPA and PIPA would effectively close down the less-moneyed websites that can’t aford lawyers, costing thousands more jobs. This is something that even the staunchest supporters of a centralized economy have pointed out!

I have looked at the list of supporters for these bills and have noticed that nearly all 142 of them are enormous corporations who would be the only ones to benefit from SOPA/PIPA enforcement. The NFL is on the list, and they have a monopoly which is not only legal, but recognized and enforced by the United States government! Makeup giants Revlon and L’Oreal, printing giant Random House, several television giants, MasterCard and Visa, Marvel, Disney Publishing Worldwide, Time Warner, MCA, and Sony are all supporting it. I can’t say the presence of any of them is surprising.

This country is not the United States of China or North Korea. It is not the United Soviet States of America. It was built on a foundation guaranteeing every individual protection from infringement of their freedom of expression. That goes for everyone in the country – as a private citizen, the government has no right to make a law silencing me, either on behalf of its own desires or on behalf of some other private individual or organization. No matter how much money it’s waving in front of Congressman Du Jour’s face.

Please vote no on SOPA and PIPA. Then if possible, burn it and never speak of it again.

Nicholas Croston

Me and The Beatles

Like every other city in the world that rocks out to the old classic bands, Buffalo has always had a very strong relationship with The Beatles. Two of the local radio stations play Beatles songs at particular times every day, and one of them even plays a two-hour bloc of Beatles music every weekend. When that radio station recently created a list of the 100 great vinyl albums ever made, two Beatles albums – The White Album and Abbey Road – placed in the top five. It’s a pretty reverential way to treat a rock band that was so popular, it never got around to swinging by Buffalo. We know the songs, we can quote the lyrics, we argue over the quality of the albums.

And yet. To me, The Beatles were always a kind of the odd man out among the British invasion bands. It’s extremely important to note a few things right now: First, I am a Beatles fan. Although I never bought any of their music on CD, I own several of their albums; Revolver, Rubber Soul, and Abbey Road are all in my iPod, and I will soon be adding Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And second, I understand why they have attained their status as the greatest rock band of all time. The barriers they broke down in their full realization of studio musicianship are inarguable in their importance and the role they played in the development of modern rock music.

I have, however, had a few problems with the band that many who know me don’t share. In conversation, I’ve often come off as someone who hates these four unlikely Liverpudlian scousers because I’m not capable of elevating them to the critical immunity they have apparently attained. First, John Lennon: My great respects to him for his talent as a songwriter and experimenter. However, in the later days of The Beatles, his songwriting comes off like he cared more about his public’s perception of him as a serious artiste than he did about making music he truly believed in. While he eventually came around again during his solo career, a lot of his later Beatles music just comes off as pretentious to me. Second, I hate the weird feud between the John and Paul factions because they act as if John and Paul were the only two songwriters in the band. They were prominent, but that contest is only a contest at all if you believe quantity means more than quality. Both of them paled in comparison to George, whose output was less because he wasn’t constantly teaming up with anyone. Hell, you could include Ringo if you like. He only wrote two songs for the band, but one of them was “Octopus’s Garden.” Third, no one – John or Paul people – appears to be giving Paul any of the credit he deserves as an experimenter. Everyone concentrates on his ability to write catchy pop tunes.

I didn’t automatically develop a taste for The Beatles, as most of my more artistically inclined friends did. It gradually evolved as I slowly came in later ages to appreciate lyrical and sonic depth. Even counting this, though, a ton of their work is still rather hit or miss. I can appreciate the beauty of the string instruments on “Eleanor Rigby,” but that song evokes a lot of old feelings I’ve had for extended periods in my life and would rather avoid remembering. I have that same complaint about “Yesterday.” I think the entire White Album is overrated, having lost any sense of passion or meaning in an array of competitive artistry and studio wizardry.

I faced a lot of put-downs because I tend to concentrate so much on what I don’t like about The Beatles in conversation. I’m a contrarian, so that’s instinctive. But there is one universal facet of Beatles music which I don’t believe even their most fervent supports can argue: They don’t have the sense of passion, anger, or fun that so many of the other bands of that era had, and for a blue-collar city like Buffalo, that should make them the odd band out. In my personal pantheon, it DOES make them the odd band out. Yes, John sang out for a world-changing revolution in the wonderful song “Revolution,” but as much as I love that song, it lulls and rings flat and hollow when compared to The Rolling Stones and the springy, urgent guitar rhythm in “Street Fighting Man” as Mick Jagger desperately ponders the situation of a restless poor boy in London. Yes, “Eleanor Rigby” is a soul-haunting song which captures the sorrow of loneliness, but it can’t compare to The Who playing “Behind Blue Eyes” as Roger Daltry’s monotonous, growling vocals capture not only the the sorrow, but the anger, resentment, and total mental alienation of loneliness as well. “Back in the USSR” was a cute, clever practical joke on global politics which missed because it was also a cute, clever knock at The Beach Boys as well. Cute, clever, and missed points are all applicable terms which aptly describe another great song about global politics by another great British band: The Clash and their song about unrest in the middle east, “Rock the Casbah,” which about 90 percent of people hearing it for the first time mistake for a sexual anthem.

The Beatles were born into the working class in Liverpool after the Luftwaffe bombings, but I never was able to get the feeling they’ve actually been there. Even at their angriest, most passionate, or most fun, The Beatles sound like they’re forcing themselves to emote. In Buffalo, I get the feeling they’re the local rock band of suburbanites; they look at the issues from afar, thinking they’ll never have to contend with them in their lives. They show concern, but that concern never goes beyond the occasional check for a private charity.

In the meantime, The Rolling Stones and The Who are the passionate fighters for justice, fighting the root causes of the problems with all their rage. They have been the more relatable of the great British bands to me. The Who in particular – although, ironically, I only own one of their albums (Who’s Next) – seem to have a song for everything that strikes a chord with me. They’ve captured my alienation (“Behind Blue Eyes”), my eventual empowerment and embrace of my outcast, rebel status (“Baba O’Riley”), my fascination and eventual disillusionment with populist movements (“Won’t Get Fooled Again”), and even the way I used video games as a means of escape when I was a kid (“Pinball Wizard”). The Rolling Stones captured my depression (“Paint it, Black”), and inspired me to keep fighting for my goals even when they don’t seem attainable (You Can’t Always Get What You Want”). Led Zeppelin captured my imagination in virtually every way. The Clash captured my frustration with corporations. The Police I just love to listen to.

As for The Beatles, they’re a truly fantastic band, and I love listening to their music. I cannot, however, revere them as invincible musical demigods.

Buffalo’s Occupiers Get it Right

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you already know about the Occupy movement. They’re out camping in the streets, angry and frustrated and trying to get some of Wall Street’s insane cash flow back into Main Street, where 99 percent of the people actually live.

Generally, I agree with the idea, but I’m a little suspicious of the Occupiers for a few reasons: First of all, I have a very rooted suspicion that a few too many of these guys can’t exactly qualify as 99 Percenters themselves, but as well-off trust fund hipsters looking for ways to rebel. Second, I KNOW a lot of these people aren’t there as part of a giant 99 Percent mass which wants to take back Main Street, but as representatives of more radical leftist factions pushing a very, VERY narrow agenda and who won’t budge on it. This is liable to cause a number of divisions within the Occupy movement and, in fact, it already has. Buffalo and New York City have both splintered on agenda differences. Thanks, Occupiers, that was fun. You can go back to your universities now.

Now, I have a lot of praise for the Buffalo Occupiers, or rather, the original group that started the movement outside of Buffalo City Hall. Whereas the other Occupy groups did everything in their power to call everyone on the outside racists, Occupy Buffalo knows what unity actually is. Instead of trying to divvy up their agendas, they’ve been concentrating on the big picture.

Its gone shamefully underreported, probably because this is Buffalo and not some glamor city with a ton of nightlife and artlife. But if the Occupy movement wants any chance in hell of changing anything, it would be wise to adopt the Occupy Buffalo’s tactics and avoid alienating all of their potential allies.

While the Police at other Occupy protests have been assaulting and arresting screaming protesters, one of the first things Occupy Buffalo did was recognize that the Police are among the 99 Percent too, and were probably afraid of how they might be affected by the budget. So the local Occupiers held a vigil in appreciation of the Buffalo Police Department, and the result is that the Buffalo Police are leaving Occupiers alone. The BPD and Occupiers are, in fact, on excellent terms with each other. There has been nary even a faint whisper of violence, and when an anonymous donor gave the Occupiers a large dome to help them stick it out through the winter, the Police let them set it up without incident.

The Occupiers have also agreed to let the city provide the necessary maintenance on their spot. This was an official agreement; the Occupiers were invited into City Hall to make it formal. Whenever maintenance is needed, the Occupiers move out for the few hours it takes the city services to clean up.

The Occupiers have even managed to reach out to the Tea Party. Instead of taking the regular path of most of the Occupy movements and saying everyone not with them is a horrible racist, Occupy Buffalo managed to recognize one of the goals of the original Tea Party: Try to end government waste. I’m not sure how the Tea Party has responded, but it was a smart thing for the Occupiers to recognize a major goal they have in common with ideological opponents.

Occupy Buffalo is a true throwback movement to the 60’s. Instead of the us-vs.-them mentality employed by virtually everyone in any kind of political arena today, Occupy Buffalo is taking the general idea of the people vs. the corporate and government interests that united the country in the protests of the 60’s. It’s too bad Occupy Buffalo split, but the Occupy movement everywhere has lessons to learn from Buffalo.