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Category Archives: Outside the Cities

Tradition and Colin Kaepernick

Tradition and Colin Kaepernick

I’m going to be blunt with my definition of what tradition is: Tradition is a series of things you keep doing even though they’re useless and unnecessary and useless at best and dangerous to the welfare of other people at worst. No one ever bothers to give it any thought because that’s the way they were raised, dammit, and the way they’ve always done things, so therefore it must be right. Tradition is a series of hollow, meaningless gestures which maybe – MAYBE – had some great purpose back in the Victorian era, but since then has been worn down by the demands and conditions of a surrounding society and become stupid and self-destructive.

There are good traditions, but even those hold no more meaning than the bad ones. If you’re using tradition in an argument as your sole excuse for trying to preserve a practice or an idea, you’ve already lost.

You’ll have to excuse me for wondering what all the hoopla is about when people talk about traditions. If tradition was still king, women and black people would still be considered property.

Let me be clear about this: Tradition has never had anything sacred about it. It was something someone sat down and drew up on a lunch napkin during break that blew out of proportion. It’s also used as a way to get people to ignore certain issues about the surrounding world which need to be addressed.

Take the American flag, for example. We get so busy huffing and puffing over it that we forget the root of what it really is: A piece of cloth with a specific dye pattern. Broken down, it’s not even close to sacred, and even the pattern on it which is so recognizable everywhere in the world hasn’t been solid in basically forever. Everyone knows the stars on the flag represent the 50 states in the United States. What gets lost among all the nice unity chatter is the fact that the 50th state, Hawaii, was granted statehood in 1959, right on the heels of Alaska. That’s means there’s a sizable chunk of the population both alive and old enough to remember a time when this great sacred object only had 48 stars. You can imagine what it must have been like before then, especially during the 19th and 20th century turnover, when the country was adding a new star to the flag every three years. How tiring that must have gotten.

The precious, Precious, PRECIOUS flag is steeped in a tradition which has been surprisingly fluid is what I’m getting it. They never kept the damn thing the same. Wikipedia even has a section about the United States showing the planned flag designs of the future just in case more states are added to the country. The thing changed, and it’s going to keep on changing.

That brings me to the American Flag Code. Yes, there’s an American Flag Code, a good long list of behaviors and regulations of what to do when the flag is barging around the room. It was apparently written by over 60 organizations – including the Daughters of the American Revolution, Boy Scouts, Knights of Columbus, and American Library Association – and adopted in 1923 by something called the National Flag Convention. “Written by over…” is usually a code term for “the interns punched it out in a couple of hours.” But what really gets me about the American Flag Code is that the fucking thing is COPYRIGHTED. That means if you’re dying to get access to a hard copy of it, you’re going to have to engage in the one thing about America that has always been it’s great inarguable tradition: Paying money for something which, given the unique circumstances surrounding it, should be free! It’s the American way, really: We make you think it’s cool before selling it to you.

Having familiarized myself with a little bit of the American Flag Code, it’s a shock how extensive it is and how little the general public gives a shit when it gets violated. Section 176 specifically forbids the flag’s use as clothing or drapery. But how many people would be out of their jobs if that section was honored? The number of workers in factories making American flag clothes has to be in the thousands. And not everyone stands up and salutes the flag while the National Anthem is blared over the loudspeakers, either. They’re all still milling about and socializing amongst themselves, and the Respect the Troops rhetoric that these flag ceremonies hypothetically represent is left on the shelf while I-don’t-feel-like-it takes over.

It’s funny how a kneeling quarterback suddenly reminded us how much we love the flag. Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, recently did something pretty simple: He kneeled during the National Anthem because he was tired of being forced to salute a country where no one can seem to get over the habit of treating black people as something between second-class citizens and threats. Kaepernick was protesting Police violence against unarmed blacks on the outside, but his protest gained traction because this is coming at a critical juncture. Texas has banned the use of the term “slave trade” from school textbooks, Fox News has used on-air arguments justifying and excusing slavery, and the Republican Presidential candidate might as well be BFFs with David Duke. We like to think racism ended with Jackie Robinson; in fact, the school textbooks I grew up being force-fed adopted that attitude. “Hey, there was a ballplayer named Jackie Robinson who was black! Then Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream! After that, racism went POOF! in a cloud of hippie love!” It doesn’t mention that the hippie love puff was probably a cloud of weed – it made us look for and sometimes even see something that wasn’t there.

Yes, laws changed, but that doesn’t mean the people changed. Hell, even poor Martin Luther King only hit the public school mainstream because his famous dream is the only thing people want to remember about his beliefs. The dream sticks with people because it’s warm and fuzzy and deals with the individual viewpoint. Delving further into his work reveals the pissed off writing of a very angry man who believed the white moderates who emphasized his dream were more of a threat to his people than the KKK for that reason: Their belief in order and civility above real justice. Kaepernick’s protest is starting to reveal the people King was writing about. No one seems to care about all the crimes committed by countless other NFL players and the league not giving a damn. But Kaepernick broke our sacred tradition and now we’re talking boycotts. People use a lot of different methods of hiding from a lot of real issues in the country, and by kneeling during the National Anthem, Kaepernick cut them off from one of their escapes: Football. Now he’s being accused of creating controversy, but as another famous loudmouthed athlete I like, Charles Barkley, once said, he’s not creating the controversy. The controversy was always there. Kaepernick is merely bringing it to our attention.

It’s funny to me that our obsession with tradition is the only thing that’s making Kaepernick’s action controversial. I don’t believe most other countries would raise an uproar like this. They have something that we have and claim to love but appear to secretly hate: Freedom of speech. That’s the first law written in the United States Constitution, a document which does – or at least should – mean something to the country because it’s the supreme law of the land. What’s written in the Constitution is what goes, which is why there’s been so little change in it. Kaepernick probably knew about the uproar he was going to cause, because we’ve come to accept that our flag and song mean something – god only knows what – over his own right to express his displeasure over the fact that his people are routinely shot to death on traffic stops while white rapist Brock Turner was put in jail for all of six months because the judge worried about his prison time having the kind of impact on him that prison time should have on rapists.

If you want to drag one of our stupidest traditions into it – I’m talking, of course, about religion – you should know the god of your Bible specifically forbids the creation of graven images, and that’s what has now become of the flag. It’s apparently something to be worshipped no matter what. And if you want to bring the third Abrahamic religion (Islam) into it, the Quran’s version of the story of Abraham takes a special pain to point out how stupid it really is. In the Quran, Abraham’s father was a man who made idols, and Abraham wondered if there was a contradiction apparent in creating something which you then bow down and worship. That’s why God started sending him messages. Back in the land of reality, if we weren’t so busy being outraged at someone for having the gall to not stand up because our favorite idol was now blasphemed by someone expressing a constitutional right, then we could be enjoying the new season and this whole thing never would have been an issue.

But that’s the kind of bullshit that blind obedience to tradition makes you do. Ultimately, we’re going to go home and not give another thought about it until someone breaks from the sacred flag traditions again. In the meantime, we’re going to wear our American flag Calvin Klein underwear and send kids to school to recite words they won’t even think about. I’m of course referring to the Pledge of Allegiance, which wasn’t formally adopted until 1942, and which wasn’t written in its current form until 1954. And which was originally written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy. You may want to look him up. He was an outspoken socialist.

Sebastopol

Sebastopol

My little sister got hitched and I took on an insane onslaught of new experiences in a year which was already full of them.

My sister’s engagement went for awhile, so I had known there was going to be a wedding somewhere down the pipeline. But the where and when didn’t pop up until earlier this year. Now, between my schedule and current location, I never let myself fall into the mindset that getting to my sister and brother-in-law would be easy. But when my sister revealed the location during one of our online conversations, my heart dropped a little bit. It was going to be in Sebastopol, a little resort village in California. Wanting to be the well-prepared traveler, I immediately started looking up any information I could find on Sebastopol. A few pieces of key information popped up: Two hotels, both too expensive for me to stay in. And Sebastopol was some 50 miles out from San Francisco and Oakland, ruling out my usual travel routine of a nice hostel and the learn-as-you-go method of navigating the public transit. Santa Rosa was a more reasonable ten miles down the road, but there were no major travel hubs there, and the lodgings weren’t going to be any better.

At some point, I wondered what kept the two of them from having their wedding in a more convenient location, like Antarctica. Was McMurdo Station all booked up for the summer?

The problem of where I was going to stay wasn’t even the first obstacle in front of my face. The first was reserving the necessary time off from my brutal work schedule, which turned out to be much easier than expected after I told them what I was missing Prime Week for. The main problem was that I didn’t want to be returning home only to have to force myself through one of my 15-hour nighttime workdays right after my arrival. I got around that by placing the entire working week on hold, but that presented yet another problem: Doing that left very little wiggle room for me to, you know, arrive there, because it meant I would still have to work for the whole week leading up to the wedding. My options for outbound travel were left between the frying pan and the fire: Either finish up my final shift of the week and make a bum rush from work to the local terminal, or wait for the next day to arrive in the nick of time, save the day, and be the big damn hero. Given the travel times, it looked like I was going to have to drag my luggage to work. Then a chat with my brother-in-law finally spelled out the truth: My preferred method of travel was always the train, and that was too slow and unreliable in the time crunch I was facing. There was only one way to get me into Sonoma County in time for the festivities, and it entailed leaving the ground.

I’m a seasoned traveler. I’ve seen a pretty wide area of the country, and I have somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 travel miles under my belt. Not a single one of them was by air, because the prospect of air travel was pretty scary to me. You get pressure-locked inside of a giant sardine can flowing with one of the most flammable liquids ever created and suspended 30,000 feet in the sky. If evolution had the sense to create birds the size of tractor trailers, it might make a bit more sense to domesticate them, but it didn’t. One of my goals for the near future is international travel, so I always knew I would have to face my fear of flight, but that didn’t mean I would be Spartan about it. Brother-in-law said this would be just about perfect for my first real experience with air travel.

“It’s just a two-hour nonstop flight from where you are,” he said.

I finally had to concede. “I’ll have to get over it some time, so I guess now is as good a time as any. Besides, I’ve already been doing a lot of things for the first time this year,” I said.

“That’s the spirit!” said my sister.

Also, I would have to rent a car or rely on a three-hour bus route – best case scenario – and several busses being on time in order to get there. That presented yet another obstacle: Either hope I get on all the right busses and that everything arrives on time or face the California freeways without a navigator.

My first step was to secure a place to stay. I wasn’t keen on throwing a ton of money at a hotel, but my sister found some airbnb links to spots to stay right in Sebastopol. I liked what I saw, opened an account with airbnb, filled out my information… And learned that my computer and the airbnb website just don’t care for each other very much. I never got to the reservation confirmation screen, or received a confirmation email, and when I brought the issue to the attention to airbnb customer service, they said I didn’t have an itinerary to speak of. So I couldn’t make the booking on my computer, and I’m obviously not going to fill out the information they needed in the middle of the public library. Fortunately, my sister found links to a similar site called VRBO, and once again, I found a place I liked. And it was booked solid. So once again, I found another place on VRBO that I liked, and lucked out when I saw that it was not only available, but a double booking had given me a cheaper price when the people running it said they had to put me in their camping trailer rather than their cottage. They didn’t accept credit cards for the site, either, so I would have to send them a check, which they would return when I got there with the proper cash. Booking took days because I had to use snail mail, but it went smoothly. Unfortunately, I waited until the booking was confirmed before making my flight and car reservations, which left me with higher prices to pay. The flight and rental car websites both took my information without any weirdness, although I was on the phone with my sister the whole time because I didn’t want to get slapped with a charge for something I didn’t actually buy.

My sister gave me a rundown of what to expect when you’re new to flying, which was helpful when the big day arrived. I arrived at the airport about two hours in advance, and learned pretty quickly that my sister had made everything sound more complicated than it actually was. The process of getting to my plane was easy:
1 – Print ticket.
2 – Hand baggage over to baggage people.
3 – Go through security.
4 – Find gate.
5 – Find food and coffee, sit down, and relax while waiting for boarding to begin.
I called my sister, per her request, once I was on the plane. Things were smooth right up until the plane reached the beginning of the runway. That was where the engine started revving up for the flight, which in turn caused my heart to rev up like Pepe Le Pew’s whenever he spies his weekly l’amour. As the plane then sped down the runway, I was glued in place by some combination of g-forces and fingernails digging into the armrest. And… The plane left the ground. THE. PLANE. LEFT. THE. GROUND. I couldn’t seem to distract myself from that, so during the flight, I kept myself occupied with my iPod and a Neil Gaiman comic book my sister and brother-in-law gave me. I also made a habit of glancing at the flight attendants; not because of the typical reasons, but because they made their careers on airplanes and likely had experienced everything a typical flight could put them through. It stood to logic that if they weren’t panicking, there was nothing to panic over.

Everyone has heard a million times that flying is safer than driving. Whoever said that had to be from California. Of course, anything would have to be safer than driving in California. Trying to stick to a set of directions I had hand-written from Google Maps, I began my drive to Sebastopol by getting on the I-880 in the wrong direction, zipping past two or three exits, and getting off to ask directions at the closest gas station. Returning to the I-880, I had a brief flashback to my first visit to St. Louis, when my friend Kevin handed me his Dad’s car keys with the instructions to take the car several miles down the road – at night, in a place I had never seen before and had been in for less than a day – to grab a handful of stage props he left in his wife’s car. I performed flawlessly, but that was a straight shot down the road for five miles. This was 50 miles of twisting and turning through express traffic and semi-rural scenery. After getting lost five times and stuck in traffic three times, I finally arrived in Sebastopol.

By the time I got to my VRBO location, the rehearsal dinner had been going for two hours at someplace called the Hopmonk Tavern, so now I had to get back in the car after a drive that already ran nearly six hours and push for another half hour, the last ten minutes of which was spent trying to find a parking spot. I think I was the last one to show up. After missing a phone call from my concerned mother just as I got there and greeting her and my sister, I put together a plate of food and dug in with gusto, as my food intake for that day so far had consisted of a breakfast bagel with coffee before my flight and a small bag of mini-pretzels courtesy of Alaska Airlines. The rest of the night was a rousing round of who-are-you. My sister had friends coming in from quite a few different places, many of whom had met me before in pasts both distant and not-so-distant. I’m horrid with names, and sometimes I can be pretty bad with faces, but I did remember everyone who said they already met me before. They had all heard right: Why yes, today WAS my first-ever airplane flight!

Wedding day started with a nice walk through downtown Sebastopol, where I looked for a nice joint to eat a decent breakfast. After finding Hole in the Wall, I took a walk for a few blocks of Main Street before returning to my VRBO place to rest up for the wedding. My hosts were excellent with giving out directions, but their sense of time seemed to be a little off. The wedding was going to be in Armstrong Woods, a state-sanctioned redwood forest just outside of a nearby little town called Guerneville. Between the way my sister talked about it and the way my hosts told me how far away it was, I figured that “nearby” was the Buffalo definition of the word: Hamburg being two towns south. I didn’t count on Guerneville being nearly an hour down the CA-116. After failed phone calls to my parents, I headed out at nearly 2 PM and arrived at Armstrong Woods just on time, but faced a three-quarter mile hike to the wedding spot. Fortunately, my new in-laws spotted me and gave me a ride into the meadow where the wedding was taking place.

My sister and I aren’t big on tradition. And weddings, well, the whole idea of a church wedding in front of a community is a relic of the ancient past, and not a good one; to me, the whole idea comes off like something a community would believe is done for it. Weddings, to me, have always been personal expressions of the couple getting married, and that’s what my sister and brother-in-law went for. Both of them love being outdoors, so being in a meadow, among the trees and animals they both love, seemed appropriate. The ceremony was simple – the Minister of the ceremony made a funny and touching speech about why the two of them are perfect for each other, they exchanged rings, said their I Do’s, and just like that, I had new family members. There was no communion, no bridesmaids, no best man, none of that silliness of someone being given away, and I think I spent more time admiring the redwoods than watching the ceremony. Even the flower girl forgot to throw the flowers.

There wasn’t any more tradition at the reception than there was at the wedding. The bride and groom didn’t give their own table any prominence above the others. They stood up and greeted the audience, but that was it. Again, there was nothing there to make the party any more complicated than it had to be: Garter removal, first dance, first pieces of cake – hell, cake itself – honorary toast, and bouquet toss – there was no bouquet either – were axed, and everyone let their hair down, socialized, and enjoyed themselves. I ended up hitting it off pretty well with my new in-laws, especially the husband of one of the sisters, because he was an avid soccer fan. A lot of us took turns swinging on a large rope suspended in a tree for no particular reason. When the party was over, it still didn’t seem late enough, so the group of us that was left walked back to the Hopmonk Tavern for drink, music, and more general merriment. There was a reggae/ska band called Pacific Soundrise playing, and it was here that I discovered that having a sister who was the bride could mean all access. No one paid anything to get into the show, and several of us stood up, listened to the music, and kept on dancing the night away. A few people noticed my outfit and wondered why I looked like such a professional.

The next day brought the final event of the wedding weekend: Brunch! Taking place at a park, it was another stripped-down event. I talked to more people and walked around. A few of us went on a short walk on one of the paths. I was invited to see a couple of other places, but I got lost pretty early on and my phone is crap for reading directions by text message. So I spent the day with my parents in downtown Sebastopol again, looking at musical instruments – including a $10,000 custom guitar whose maker let me play it briefly and an enormous bongo drum that stood up to my chest – and books. Afterward, we met my sister and brother-in-law for dinner before visiting the house where my new in-laws were staying, watching the scenery, watching baseball, and playing endless games of corn hole – you know, getting to know each other better.

That was it for the weekend. I raced back to Oakland the next day to get my rental car in and ended up catching my flight just in time, while my parents headed back to Buffalo and my sister and brother-in-law went to Hawaii. It had been one hell of a weekend.

Welcome to the family, everyone.

Biscuits

Saint Louis is a northern south. Right on the border of Illinois – which cannot in any way be called a southern state – sits a clearly invisible dividing line. On the Illinois side, I was a little surprised to find large belt buckles with the unmistakable embossing of the Confederate flag on them, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me for two reasons: First of all, I was technically seeing this in Illinois. It was the Saint Louis metro area, granted, but a state line is a state line and there are no actual cities which cross state lines. Second, while sympathetic to the Confederacy, Missouri never actually went through with secession.

I understand that the former Confederacy sees its famous ensign as a piece of its history and a symbol of regional pride and don’t-boss-me-around rebelliousness. Then again, I also understand that Indian Hindus keep the swastika as a symbol of good luck.

The southern accent dominates the region, and I’ve been subjected to a few y’alls and other forms of regional dialect. I did know a few southerners in the north, only a next-door neighbor still had a think layer of her deep accent to go with a husky drawl. The other southern natives had accents which were faded at best, and they had adopted the Chicagoan slang of their northern friends and neighbors.

What surprised me most, however, was a recent stop in a small Belleville restaurant. I wanted a light meal, and looked at a breakfast menu which featured biscuits with gravy. Not as a side dish, but as a standalone item which allowed the option of having one or two biscuits with it. My hosts, Kevin and Christi, had both been regulars to southern culture at some point in their lives. Christi’s parents, who had dropped in unexpectedly for a quick visit, were both ornery southerners. All were shocked when I asked just what to expect with the biscuits.

Now, I had always loved biscuits, but we don’t glorify them in the north the way they do in the south. Biscuits in the north are strictly a side dish which is to be served with butter instead of bread with butter, and only on occasion. It took about ten minutes – during which Christi and her parents all expressed disbelief that I had never had biscuits and gravy before – before I decided to expand my horizons and try this southern comfort delicacy. The food came quickly, and I was given two normal-sized biscuits and a large bowl of white gravy with chunks of sausage. The proper way of eating them, I was told, was to cut the biscuits in half and just dump the gravy all over them.

After doing that, I was a little perplexed as to whether or not I eat them the traditional way or with a fork. I took the traditional method, grabbing them by hand and eating them between my fingers. The density of the gravy was greater than the density of the biscuits, and that sadly resulted in the biscuits slowly falling apart. Even so, I think I discovered a new favorite breakfast dish.

Tom Brady and the Hotel Fiasco

I don’t want any of the contents of this post to confuse people, so let me clear the air right now: I hate Tom Brady’s guts. I’ve often accused him of perpetuating an image of the All-American Golden Boy, and I’ve accused him of reaching his stature despite having never paid a single due in his life. But those are, of course, my critical theorist observations which I yanked from the air to try to explain why society in general hates Tom Brady. I use those as excuses to mask the fact that there’s no real good, obvious reason to hate Brady and that my need to kick him to a curbside is completely irrational outside of football. I look for excuses, because Brady himself sucks at providing excuses to hate him. I hate him more for that.

Tom Brady has taken the Patriots to their fifth Super Bowl during his tenure as their starting quarterback, and he’ll be staring down his Super Bowl opponents from 2007: The New York Giants. Brady is the star player for an archrival of the Buffalo Bills, which gives me reason enough to want to see his smug prettyboy head get clanged and dented a few times. I don’t need another reason to hate Tom Brady. But I’ll be parting ways with the Bills soon. Its been a wonderful run with them, but I find a lot of their current practices inexcusable and I officially began the process of detaching myself from them a couple of years ago. Once they leave, the team most likely to fill the void will be the New York Giants, so it isn’t like I need another reason to cheer for them. It’s an almost perfect love/hate matchup for me. If only the Bears had been Brady’s antagonists this year.

People in Buffalo hate Tom Brady because he carves up the Bills like a pumpkin twice every football season. And considering how much I hate him personally, it’s saying something that today, I’m writing to defend him. As I mentioned, Brady is actually a really good guy in person, and between his All-American sheen and the secrecy of the Patriots, the media spin machine has to invent every excuse it uses to rile sports fans into a healthy, frothing anti-Brady rage. The media has done this job well over the last week and taken two harmless comments Brady made and spin them out of control.

The first was a comment Brady made at a pep rally in New England. Addressing the crowd, Brady said “I wish I could take all you guys to Indy with us. We’re going down there, and we’re going down there for one reason. We’re going to give it our best, and hopefully we have a lot more people at our party next weekend.” That final clause is actually pretty harmless. Brady is not the kind of guy who runs around talking shit about his opponents, bragging about how much better he is. That clause is more a statement of hope for Brady, who lost several games to the Giants in the past; in the 2007 Super Bowl, it was the Giants who wrecked New England’s dream of the only perfect season in the 16-game era. During that game, Brady was physically abused and beat up in ways most quarterbacks aren’t used to, and mentally terrorized in a way I’ve never seen any quarterback endure in 15 years of watching football. If anything, that sentence was a humble tip of the hat to an opponent Brady knows is fully capable of slamming him to the turf again. But the New York City media wasn’t concentrating on the fact that Brady, at best, was hoping for a win. Instead, they took the part about a lot more people showing up at next weekend’s party and whirled up some bullshit about him making a guarantee.

A few days later, Brady talked with glowing admiration about how his parents supported him and flew out to see him wherever he played. Of his father, Tom Brady Sr., Brady said, “Even when I started my pro career, (Tom Sr.) traveled to Buffalo. I don’t know if you guys have ever been to the hotels in Buffalo – they’re not the nicest places in the world – but he would still travel to those.” That whole comment would have been instantly forgotten the instant he said it – in 99 percent of the country, it in fact probably was – had he not tossed in the backhanded reference to Buffalo.

When Brady made that remark, I shrugged it off like a lake effect snowflake. This is Buffalo, after all, a city in such dire shape that a onetime starting quarterback for the Bills, Rob Johnson, slammed the place in a nasty tirade on how boring Buffalo is. When his interviewer asked if it was really that bad, Johnson replied “Ever been there?” The Bills fielded a Hall of Fame quarterback in the 80’s and 90’s, Jim Kelly, who – while never a top-tenner – frequently shows up in the top percentage of quarterbacking greats. While Kelly is long retired and now keeps house in Buffalo, at the time of his draft in 1983 he was so pissed off about being exiled to Buffalo that he walked out of the NFL and played his first two years of professional football with the Houston Gamblers, a team in an unproven upstart league. He came crawling back to the Bills only because there were no other options. Both incidents are long forgotten.

That’s why Buffalo’s reaction at Brady’s offhand remark was so difficult to fathom. This is Buffalo, a city that prides itself on toughness. With our image, it takes toughness to live here. But when Brady commented on the sorry state of our hotel industry, the city jumped down his throat with an indignant hatred I would have earlier only ascribed to Chicagoans bitching about how Chicago will never be as awesome as New York City. The reaction was insane, topped out by a local radio station holding a ceremonial burning of Tom Brady shirts. All over a comment on hotels which Buffalo natives probably don’t stay in very often.

Let’s not kid ourselves. That petulant overreaction happened because Buffalo hates Tom Brady. We’ve heard much worse, and had Brady still been a third-stringer, we would have shrugged it off like it came from Curtis Painter. I’m ashamed to say that Buffalo lost enough of its composure to necessitate an apology by Brady. No, Tom. If anything, I’m sorry this proud beacon to roughneck-tumble character threw a hissy fit over something so mundane. Even OJ Simpson – another former Bill, by the way – never endured our wrath like that.

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.

Through the Country

Forgive the lack of recent updates. I made three separate sojourns into the countryside.

Two of them connected me with people whose existence I had almost literally forgotten about. The first drive into the country was to visit my Uncle Mike, cousin Nicole, and nephew Aloysius in Dansville. I was an ankle-biter the last time I saw any of them, and in fact I had never met my nephew at all.

The second drive was to the resort village of Ellicottville. Ellicottville is a fairly urbane little village, and it’s pretty rich for a small town cuddled up in the mountains. It had that hip, brick small store look to it, a bunch of recently-built condos, and one of the prettiest churches outside of the Buffalo area.

The third was out to some random stretch of road. A sentence like that is a way in which many horror movies begin, I know, but this drive was to buy a piece of pottery from a local small farm potter.

Ellicottville was definitely the prettiest of the three, and the most active. There were motorcyclists and bicyclists roving everywhere throughout the main road, and while the architecture was created in an old-fashioned way, it was cleaned up to give it a nice sheen.

I enjoyed going through the hills and looking at the sights and the local wildlife. At one point, we passed a shop that crafted iron sculptures, adding to the local color. The nicest thing about the drive was getting to know the wilderness once again. The mountains in New York seem bigger than I remembered – although I guess five years of seeing flatland made me forget what a mountain can look like. But this is the state I grew up in, and the state I knew as a kid. Not Manhattan or Brooklyn with the huge steel and glass pillars as far as the eye can see and the urban noise and clutter, but the peaceful, quiet wilderness and greenland.

I didn’t get to see much of the country in Illinois. What I saw was mainly on trips through Ohio and Michigan.