The Writing Wombat

An American Marsupial in Fiction Land

Category: Musings

Hawaii, Part I

I’m trying something a little different this week. I’m vacationing in Hawaii with the in-laws. Baby’s first flight of longer than an hour, and let me tell ya, the difference between a short jaunt and an extended haul is rather pronounced with a three-year old. I started jotting down my thoughts after the first day or two, thinking there’d be a blog post at the end.

But I fear that final post might be 10,000 words and ain’t nobody wantin’ to read that shit. Plus, I’d have to go back and change verb tense, and ain’t nobody wantin’ to write that shit.

So instead, I’m… live blogging? Not really. I won’t be posting in real time or anything. But maybe I’ll post more in installments as the trip goes on. Then I’ll get a whole bunch of new fans that enjoy my posting on a regular basis and then frustrate them when I go back to once every week and a half. I live for nothing more than to frustrate my fans, yo!

So here’s the first few days in Hawaii:

Cost:. Wow. Sticker shock. Maybe culture shock. Things are a wee bit expensive here. I expected certain things to be more expensive. Beef, for instance. I haven’t seen a lot of native cows walking around the lava fields, so I imagine T-Bones might be at a premium. Maybe milk, too, although I haven’t seen the price of milk yet.

However, we had lunch during our layover in Honolulu airport. And I know, airport prices are airport prices, but the Fish n’ Chips cost $24. Most of the other things on the menu were reasonable (in airport terms). The aforementioned beef (in hamburger form) was $16. Nachos were $14, or $18 with chicken or pork. Fish n’ chips cost a Hamilton more than that.

Um, we’re on an island, right?

Must be the potatoes.

Concierge: I know it’s the job of a concierge to be a sheister. Add to that the fact that we’re at a timeshare. If a 1970s used-car salesman and a 1920s bootlegger had a bastard child, that child… would probably be a little skeeved out by a timeshare concierge. Seriously, this lady couldn’t give a straight answer to anything. As soon as we sat down, she immediately started doing the carnival barker/faith healer scam, gauging her answer based on our reactions.

After she had given my daughter a “very special” keyring.

We asked her which coffee plantation had the best tour. I don’t know, she muses, what are you looking for in a coffee tour? Um, coffee? Maybe a description of how it is made? With, I don’t know, some coffee or t-shirts or shit for sale? Oh, well then you definitely want to try this one. It has all of that. Oh, you mean that’s the one that’s giving you kickbacks and if I had said I wanted a coffee enema you would’ve sent me to the same place? Gosh, thanks. So helpful.

My wife made the mistake of asking which luau is the best. Wouldn’t you know it happens to be the EXACT same one that you can get for a discount if you sit through the timeshare presentation? No seriously, your kid is going to love this particular luau because it has all of the fun luau-y things and none of the bad luau-y things.

But there’s a problem. Wife and I are already signed up for the timeshare spiel in New York this June (I know, I know. It stems from a free Brazilian rodizio steakhouse in Vegas last summer), and we can’t double up in a calendar year. (Although, as it turns out, the luau would’ve only been twenty bucks off whereas the Vegas rodizio was free. Woo-hoo. This particular round of timeshare roulette goes to the Wombat.

But hold on, concierge says. Because you two are so nice and your daughter looks like a wonderful sacrifice to the timeshare gods, um, sweet girl, I think I can finagle a way to float you that discount that I’m authorized to give to any breathing organismand, whoa-hoa, aren’t you in luck?

And, oh hey, I just thought of this, how would you like an upgrade at the luau? And by upgrade, I mean you actually have a place to sit. Otherwise it is be standing room only, did I forget to mention that? So if you want to upgrade where you can actually sit and have food, after the discount I gave to you and only to you, the total comes out to, let me see what the calculator says, oh well, what do you know, it’s the same price it would have been before the discount. 

But you have to book it now, before you’ve had a chance to sit or put down your bags or adjust to the time zone or think or, I don’t know, yelp any other companies.


Can I interest you in a volcano tour?

First day festivities: What would you want to do first after you landed in Hawaii? Okay, besides collecting your bag and rental car. Hell, I’ll even let you check into your hotel room, depending on the time of day. I mean that first, “Ahhh…. Hawaii” moment after you’ve settled in.

Was Costco top on your list? It was on ours. But unfortunately, we couldn’t get there until our second day. Because the timeshare was north and Costco was south. And we had a bunch of suitcases piled up in front of those of us in the back seat. Because the trunk was reserved for golf clubs. More on that later.

So after we checked in and unloaded the suitcases (but not the golf clubs), we felt it might be difficult to get a proper Costco run in before they closed. Father-in-law was very grumpy, but he was assuaged by the compromise of a grocer store. We spent the next hour or two purchasing groceries. After which it was very late, at least for our body clocks still three hours ahead, so we went to a food court to get dinner.

Again, we made a point to hit the grocery store on the first evening in Hawaii, then got take-out for dinner.

On day two, we didn’t just hit the Costco, we hit the Target AND the Costco, back-to-back. PARTY TIME!!!

Don’t get me wrong. We’re going to be here a week. Prices are exorbitant in town in this state. At a timeshare resort where a luau costs triple-digits without even having seat, being able to provide our own meals for ourselves is important. Just let me get a goddamned mai tai first.

Speaking of mai tais…

Alcohol: If you’re like me, your answer to the “what’s the first thing you do?” query involved something with a pineapple slice and a little toothpick-umbrella. Not the group I’m with.

Neither of my wife’s parents drink alcohol. They also don’t particularly care for alcohol being consumed around them. So that pretty much knocks out the top five things on my “What I’d Like to do in Hawaii” list.

They also don’t drink coffee. There goes my top ten.

In their defense, I don’t really golf, so I won’t be showing up for their top five, either. The difference is they don’t have to wait for a subtle nod of allowance before golfing, like I do with a beer. And if they want do a second round of golf shortly after the first, I promise I will not make any snide comments about what a bad role model they are setting for my daughter.

At least they’re interested in doing the coffee tours, from a curiosity standpoint. And I’m pretty sure they aren’t opposed to coffee on moral grounds. They do drink soda and iced tea, so caffeine isn’t the road to hell like the good stuff is.

That’s it for the first day-and-a-half. More to report later.


The Definitive Hair Band

When I first started teaching, I thought about going back to school to get a master’s degree.

I had a great idea for a master’s thesis in history: Finding the definitive hair band.

Sorry, that’s not very master’s thesis-y. How about: Analysis of the Hair Band Phenomenon and its Causes and Effects on the Society and Economics of the 1980s.

Fancy, huh?

I would stand out on my classroom porch during passing periods and try to come up with a working history of hair bands with the teacher next door. Sometimes our students would drop a name or two, because it was 2003 and teenagers still had some peripheral awareness of hair bands (Not a true understanding, of course, but at least a working knowledge).

Eventually I decided that a master’s degree wasn’t worthwhile. It would cost $5,000, and my particular school district would only pay me an extra $1,000 a year for it. Take out taxes and I’m looking at a decade before I make the money back, much less the lost hours of my twenties and thirties.

Unfortunately, that meant all of my “research” on hair bands had gone to waste. I could’ve maybe turned it into a book, but that would require writing it. And maybe needing some real research. Hello, Wikipedia!

But before I could get off my ass in order to sit my ass down and write it, the other teacher and I came to a huge disagreement about whether one particular group counted as a hair band. Like a true hair band, we decided we could not possibly go forward with this project, regardless of the fact that it would have brought us untold millions of dollars and screaming fans.

Stephen Hawking has groupies, right?

So the definitive history of hair bands was never written. Until now. Here’s my completely unresearched and unverified search for the definitive hair band (seriously, I haven’t checked the dates of these releases or how they charted or sold or anything) :


Motley Crue (not sure how to put in umlauts, please bear with me) was a pretty straight-forward rock band with limited success. Some good songs, especially on their second album with a remake of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” and what should have become an anthem, “Shout at the Devil.” But only moderate success. Vince Neal was scratching his head wondering why they hadn’t broken through yet, when he turned on MTV. All the VJ’s were gushing about a couple of Twisted Sister songs. The members of Motley Crue thought, “That music is kinda lame. Why is it so successful?”

Of course, we all know what the secret to Twisted Sister’s success: the makeup, the tongue-in-cheek songs.

The hair.

So Motley Crue decided to glam out, and their next album was a huge success. The hair band was born.

Okay, I might’ve fudged some of those details, but I think most would agree that “Theater of Pain” was the beginning of the era. It held a number of the motifs that would come to define the genre. There was a guitarred-up remake of an old song, in this case “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.” Late examples of these remakes would be Poison hitting the big time with “Your Mama Don’t Dance” and… oops, the other notable remakes come from the-band-that-shan’t-be-named.

Motley Crue’s next single was the first of what would end up becoming synonymous with hair bands: the power ballad. “Home Sweet Home” is about as awesome of a power ballad as you can get. I know most people will put “Every Rose has its Thorn” or <Redacted until later discussion> up there, but there’s something especially awesome about “Home Sweet Home.” It still stands up thirty years later, and it’s especially impressive when you consider that they were flying blind on that particular gamble. Sure, “Sister Christian” might be a little more kickin’, but by the time Night Ranger was recording it, they were following a tried-and-true formula.

And yes, Kiss fans, I know your band recorded “Beth” a decade earlier, but that’s just a ballad, like “Desperado” or “Yesterday.” Your band didn’t invent the power ballad. Now go cry through your make-up.

Different Types of Hair Bands

To find the definitive hair band, we must first define a hair band. The obvious definitions include (obviously) hair, make-up, and “playing in the general vicinity of the late 1980s?” Hair bands usually had four or five members. I don’t know why. Not all hair bands had to have a remake of an old song, but I think to be counted as a hair band, you needed to have rock songs (usually with sexual undertones that seemed edgy for the time but are downright Disney Channel by today’s standards) and power ballads, in more or less equal number. As the fad progressed, we started to get some hybrid songs that started as ballads, then became rockers.

I can’t say for certain if all of the band members played instruments, but I get the general sense that most of them had a “front man” whose only job was to sing and maybe move their crotch. And keep the peroxide shipments coming in, naturally.

Two bands stick out as extensions of the hair band era. The first is Bon Jovi, which unequivocally began as a hair band. Their first three hits included two rock anthems, “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and “Livin’ on a Prayer,” followed up by ballady “Wanted Dead or Alive” with a B-Side of “Never Say Goodbye.” Their next album was even more hair band. “Bad Medicine” fulfilled the rock quota, “I’ll Be There For You” was the power ballad, and “Lay Your Hands on Me” took that middle road which became increasingly prevalent in the waning years of the 1980s.

But Bon Jovi managed to survive past the hair band era. At first, it didn’t look like they would. When they released their “Greatest Hits” album in 1994, they might as well have been calling it a career. But then they took a little time off, Jon Bon Jovi bought some sports teams, and they adjusted their style of music to fit the new millennium. This might be because Jon Bon Jovi plays (and I believe, writes) his own music, unlike most of the front men, so he could adjust to the changing times. Perhaps the only reason they were a hair band was because that’s what the music industry required at the time. Hell, if Bon Jovi comes on when I’m shuffling my iTunes in my classroom, my students classify it as “Country Music.” The horror!

From the “Hair Band that became something else” to the “Hair Band From a Different Time,” I present the Goo Goo Dolls. Think about it. Their three biggest hits from “A Boy Named Goo” completed the same trifecta as “New Jersey” had: Rocker (“Long Way Down”), Ballad (“Name”), and middle ground (Naked”). If Johnny Rzeznik isn’t the second coming of Vince Neil, I don’t know who is. A

By the way, one of these pictures is Jon Bon Jovi, the other is Johnny Rzeznik. If one of them walked up to you, would you know who it was? I’d probably have to ask them about the Arena Football League and see which one has a comeback.

Image result for jon bon joviImage result for johnny rzeznik guitar

Hey, as an aside, did Def Leppard grow into a Hair Band a la Motley Crue, or did they always just have nine arms and suck? Discuss amongst yourselves.

The Anomaly

Here’s where my co-creator and I encountered our obstacle, a creative difference that rivaled Lennon and McCartney. A disagreement that shook us both to our very cores, calling into doubt the groundwork we had done and the very definition of a hair band. And really, if decent society cannot come together to define who is and who is not a hair band, then can the world survive?

I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to quote Thomas Jefferson in this instance. “A decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Or, to misquote a more recent president. I don’t see red states or blue states. I see people who realize that Guns n Roses is a hair band and people who don’t are wrong.

My friend does not feel that GnR was a hair band. He sees them as much more Metallica than Poison. He claims that “Appetite for Destruction” was a solid, hardcore rock album worthy of Black Sabbath, and that “Use Your Illusion” was a classic double-album that would fit perfectly alongside “The White Album” or “Quadrophenia.”

(Hey, that’s a “Quadrophenia” reference two posts in a row. You’re welcome, Pete Townshend.)

You know all the bullshit that Axl Rose was throwing out about “Estranged,” “Don’t Cry,” and “November Rain” being a trilogy? Yeah, my buddy buys that. Only don’t call it a Power Ballad Trilogy.’ Those were just standard, um, unempowered ballads.

Oh, and that other song I redacted in the “Home Sweet Home” discussion earlier?  I was talking about “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” My friend claims that the o’ in the title makes it an Irish jig.

Okay, not really. He claims “Sweet Child o’ Mine” is not a power ballad because it has no piano.

On second thought, that argument makes about as much sense as calling it an Irish gig.

Quick, here’s a picture of Axl Rose and Bret Michaels. Which one is which?

Image result for bret michaelsRelated image

The Definitive Hair Band

Fortunately, we had determined the definitive hair band before the debate over whether “Live and Let Die” is a remake of a classic rock song. The definitive rock band was easy to determine once we had determined the parameters.

And, to give you a hint, it’s a band that hasn’t been mentioned yet.

Most people jump to Poison. They are certainly the most prominent hair band, but they’ve come to define so much more. Reality shows, diabetes, aging rock stars. If you mention the band Poison to someone, a lot of different things come to mind. Plus, while they had plenty of songs, including some sexual innuendo in “Talk Dirty To Me,” their power ballad trumps their entire career. So while “Every Rose has Its Thorn” might be the definitive song of the hair band era, Poison is not the definitive band.

It couldn’t be a band that existed outside of the hair band era (see: Crue, Motley; Jovi, Bon). It had to be a band with both rockers and power ballads, preferably in equal number. In fact, if the band could only have two hits, one of each style, that would be ideal.

Substantial attention was given to Whitesnake. Tawny Kitaen on the hood of a car was enough to put them into second place. The problem with Whitesnake is that their two songs are effectively both power ballads. Sure, “Here I Go Again” speeds up as the song goes along, a la “Stairway to Heaven,” but it still doesn’t quite qualify as a straight-up rocker. “Sister Christian” speeds up, too, but we all know that’s a power ballad, right?

Wait, did I just put “Here I Go Again” and “Stairway to Heaven” in the same sentence? Yep. You’re welcome, Pete Townshend.

So Whitesnake is damned close, but not quite there. The definitive hair band, though, shares the first letter, W.


Just kidding. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

The definitive hair band is, in fact, Warrant.

“Who is Warrant?” you might ask. Unless you were between the ages of ten and thirty in 1988, you might not have heard of them. As it should be. Because if you weren’t between those ages in that year, you don’t really understand hair bands.

Warrant only had two hits. Their first one, “Heaven,” was a power ballad, complete with oddly homoerotic concert footage in the video. Nobody ever found that stuff odd at the time, but it was in a lot of videos. It’s not gay if the four shirtless dudes spooning each other on the stage are wearing spandex, right?

But the song that really helped this band define a movement was their second song, “Cherry Pie.” If there was a checklist for a hair band rocker, this would tick all the boxes. Sexual innuendo? Check. Video with scantily-clad blonde? Yep. Sprayed with a hose? Absolutely. With a slice of cherry pie emulating her pubic region? Naturally.

It should come as no surprise that “Cherry Pie” was released in late 1990 and Nirvana’s “Nevermind” came out in 1991. Once a pinnacle has been reached, it’s time to move on to the next mountain. Disco hit right after “Hotel California,” too.

So there you have it. Thank you for listening to my dissertation.

Where do I pick up my PhD?

Everything After Album #1 Sucks

I’ve been on a trend of reading biographies of famous musicians lately. And by trend, I mean I’ve read a whopping two. But I’m contemplating a third. And if “two with a potential third” doesn’t count as a literary movement unto itself, I don’t know what does.

I read “Petty,” by Warren Zanes, which is obviously a book about people who hold on to every slightest offense and fixate on trivial ways in which they’ve been wronged. No wait, I’m sorry. Different kind of Petty. This particular book was about a musician named Tom Petty. No, I didn’t read it as a result of him passing away. In fact, he died shortly after I finished the book. I hope I wasn’t responsible. I probably could’ve dragged out the last chapter had I known a life was on the line.

By the way, Tom Petty died on my birthday. Tom Clancy died on my birthday a few years earlier. I don’t know who thought “dead celebrities named Tom” was a good birthday present for me, but Messrs. Hanks and Cruise would like to stop that trend at “two with a potential third.”

More recently, I read “A Good Life all the Way.” by Ryan White, about a young pup named Jimmy Buffett. I hear the young kids love that guy. I wrote about him once before. A lot of his songs seem to have fun stories behind them. Either they’re autobiographical or he’s just a damn good poet. Turns out it’s a bit of both.

Next up might or might not be “Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography.” He’s a little bit Tom Petty, a little bit Jimmy Buffett. Not sure I’ll read it, though, because I’m starting to wane on the whole rock star biography thing. The first two were both a bit lackluster.

There are definitely things to like about both the Petty and Buffett biographies. The first half of each book did an excellent job of describing the musician’s upbringing and difficulties breaking into the music business. Both describe how the bands came together and struggled through adversity well. I doubt it’s much better now, but man, the music business sucked in the 1970s. They wouldn’t promote you unless you had multiple albums coming out each year. Tom Petty might’ve fit a little bit of a mold, in the vein of an Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd, but Jimmy Buffett was really screwed. Too country for rock n’ roll, too gaudy for good ol’ boy country.

I knew Tom Petty for most of my upbringing. I was the MTV generation, and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” was one of the definitive videos of that decade. Jimmy Buffett, I discovered later in life, first in college, but not really catching on until well into my thirties. Evidently, I’m not the only one who caught him late. His career has really only taken off in the past decade or two.

Not that you would know that by reading his biography. But more on that later.

My first gripe about these books is minor and might only affect me. They each assume I know all of the members of Petty’s and Buffett’s band. Look, I bought these books because I like their music, they seem to live interesting lives, and I want to know a little more about how those lives and songs intertwine. I don’t really know who all of their band members on, and I know you devoted a full page to them fifty pages ago, but just dropping their last name here isn’t helping me distinguish who is who.

I spent half the Tom Petty book thinking, “Wait, is this the drummer that is going to stick around?” or “Tom Petty has a bass player?” I’m sure that’s on me and and a simple trip to Wikipedia could’ve told me who would matter in the end. But if I wanted to read the Wikipedia entry for Tom Petty, then I wouldn’t have bought your book? So maybe assume I don’t know the difference between a Stan Lynch and a Benmont Tench, and give me a little context when you’re throwing out five names in a row. They’re called “and the Heartbreakers” for a reason and they weren’t even present on Petty’s most-successful album.

Not that you’d know that by reading the biography. More on that later.

As an aside, did you know that Jimmy Buffett’s “Coral Reefers Band” pre-dated anyone actually being in said band? He was a solo act, but he would act like he was talking to band members on stage. He was leery of adding actual humans to the band because he had such a great rapport with the imaginary ones. That being said, I just finished the book and can’t tell you the names of any of the real Coral Reefers except for Mac McAnally, because he has his own career outside the Coral Reefers. I think there’s also Marvin Gardens and Kay Pasa. Wait no, those were the fictional characters.

But here’s where the two biographies fell apart. After the acts are discovered and start making a name for themselves. The Petty book used the phrase “album cycle,” where the band writes and records an album, then tours to promote said album, then is expected to go back into the studio and record another album. “Their A & R Man said I don’t hear a jingle…” Did I mention the music industry sucks?

That quote was from a 1991 Tom Petty song. Not that you’d know that from the biography. More on that… um, right here.

The Buffett book doesn’t explicitly mention the album cycle, but Buffett also didn’t have hits like “American Girl” and “Refugee” that he needed to follow up on. Buffett always had a smaller, but more loyal fanbase. His concerts were much more well-attended than his album sales or radio airplay would indicate. And with fans that knew all the lyrics! So the record companies didn’t really know what to do with him. That being said, they still expected one to two new albums per year, whether he had new ideas for songs or not.

Buffet’s an odd case. He became the granddad of laid-back, despite never really being the daddy of it. He’s in the top ten of wealthiest musicians despite never having a number one song. “Come Monday” barely made it up to number thirty, and “Margaritaville” topped out at number eight. “It Five O’Clock Somewhere” did make it to number one on the country charts, but that’s primarily listed as an Alan Jackson song. Not that you’d read much about it in the biography. His first, and only, album to reach number one was his twenty-fifth album, which came out just before his sixtieth birthday.

Not that you’d know that from the biography.

Because it’s at this point, with both artists running through a mundane repetition of forced creativity, that the biographies decide that the story’s not worth telling. I’m pretty sure the Buffett book put the entire 1980s and 1990s in one chapter. The Petty book muddles together the recordings of “Southern Accents,” “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough),” “Full Moon Fever,” and “Into the Great Wide Open.” The video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” gets a mention or two, and “Free Fallin'” gets a paragraph, despite it being the longest charting single of his career. I think there’s more mention of an attempted concept album for “Southern Accent,” in the vein of “Quadrophenia,” that didn’t happen, than there is about the actual album. There was supposed to be a song on it about southern racism. That didn’t make it on the album and was never recorded. “Make It Better (Forget About Me)” was actually recorded, and released as a single, with a video that was a failed sequel to “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” but it’s not mentioned at all. Why would the reader want to know bout an actual song that they remember, when there’s so much cool information about something Petty decided wasn’t a good idea to record?

You know Traveling Wilburys? The supergroup with Bob Dylan and a former Beatle or two? You can read between the lines and find it in there, but you have to really know what you’re looking for. But Mudcrutch, the first band Petty formed, that didn’t succeed, gets a chapter.

I understand part of the reason this happens. If you’re interviewing Petty or Buffett, or the people around them, they might not have much to say about a random 1983 album that they produced to fill a contract that peaked at number seventy. The first few albums had a lot more time and heart and soul invested. The problem with that logic is that most of the people reading the book probably discovered the musician through some of those throw-away songs and albums.

I read Stephen King’s “On Writing,” which is more or less an autobiography. He focuses on what it was like to sell that first manuscript but not most of the others. He finds it ironic when people say “The Stand” was his best book, because they’re saying he peaked in the first ten percent of his career. But then he proves their point by ignoring most of his other books.

That being said, Beatles books don’t gloss over everything after “Love Me Do.” But according to “A Good Life All the Way,” a song from “Coconut Telegraph,” written by a thirty-something Jimmy Buffett, is interchangeable with something from “Songs From St. Somewhere,” scribed by a seventy-year old.

Hey, speaking of which, Jimmy Buffett’s album names don’t always correlate with the songs that have that lyric. The line “I gotta fly to St. Somewhere” appears in “Boat Drinks,” released in 1979, but the album “Songs from St. Somewhere” came out in 2013. Even more impressive was when the album name came BEFORE the lyric. The song “Nautical Wheelers,” containing the line “Living and dying in three-quarter time, was on the album “A1A,” which came out ten months AFTER the album named “Living and Dying in 3/4 Time.” Pretty impressive for a guy to think “How should I end this song? How about with the name of my last album?”

It’s a good thing those songs and albums came early in Buffett’s career or else I might never have read about that in the biography.

With Tom Petty, I gave the author a pass on the last twenty years. It’s not like Petty did anything of note after “Wildflowers.” And even “Wildflowers” was a little lacking after “Full Moon Fever” and “Into the Great Wide Open.” I’m going to arrogantly speak for ninety percent of Petty fans and claim that “Last Dance with Mary Jane” was Tom Petty’s last dance with, um, memorable songs.

But Jimmy Buffett is a different story. He became more successful as time went on. His first number one album, “Licence to Chill,” came out in 2003. It gets a few paragraphs. He runs a nationwide chain of restaurants. They get a couple of pages. Satellite radio station? It’s mentioned briefly. Even that number one hit, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” gets less mention “The Christian?,” an unsuccessful song from an unsuccessful album from his unsuccessful attempt at an unsuccessful country-music career.

The book does (briefly) talk about the rest of the world finally catching up with where Jimmy Buffett had already been for thirty years. Garth Brooks and Toby Keith might have gotten the credit for making country music fun and mainstream, but Jimmy Buffett had paved the way for them. But the chapter (yes, one chapter) that covers the last twenty years gives almost as much ink to Kenny Chesney as it does to Jimmy Buffett.

I was really curious about “Bama Breeze,” a song about a bar he frequented in his teens. Did he really have his twenty-first birthday there? Don’t know. It was written in 2004. I don’t think it was mentioned once in the entire book. What about “Fruitcakes?” Did the term for his fans come from the song or did the song come from the name for his fans? Wouldn’t know. It came out in 1994 and is not explained. The book does talk about where Parrotheads came from and some of their annual meetings of Parrotheads, including the ones that Jimmy Buffett has nothing to do with, but nothing about Fruitcakes. He almost got shot out of the sky by the Jamaican authorities, and even wrote a song about it, but it only gets a brief mention, even though a story of boating through dangerous waters outside the island of Bemini gets many pages.

Jimmy Buffett fell off the stage in Australia and added a verse to “Margaritaville” about it. It’s not in the book, but some broken legs in 1981 are featured prominently.

“Delaney Talks to Statues”? “Semi-True Story?” “Nothin’ But a Breeze?” Nope, nope, and nope.

I know it’s a biography of the singer, not a book of song reviews. But for his first six albums, the book pretty much went song by song, explaining the significance of each. Even the obscure songs that get virtually no play on Radio Margaritaville. Then it switches to a “nobody really cares about the details” theme.

Did you know that the album “Take the Weather with You” has a number of tributes and homages to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina? Including the aforementioned “Bama Breeze”? Neither did I. I just found that out on Wikipedia. It wasn’t referenced in the book.

So next up might or might not be Billy Joel. I’m torn. Fool me once, shame on you. Is the third book going to follow the same pattern? Am I going to get twenty pages on “Piano Man” and a paragraph on “We Didn’t Start the Fire”? Will it treat “Uptown Girl” as an afterthought? Will I get a detailed menu of every breakfast he ate in 1972 but then have all four of his wives clumped into one sentence?

Only time will tell.

Hey, I think that’s the name of a Jimmy Buffett song. Not that you’d know that from the biography. It came out in 1996.

Camptathalon 2017

The Brain Trust is in the early stages of planning Camptathalon 2018, so there’s no better time to publish the shenanigans from 2017. I used to write these down as soon as we got home, but last year I flaked and didn’t transcribe until January. Then we decided that it was much more fun to remember the summer festivities in the miserable winter weather. So this is the new normal.

Of course, I live in California, so “miserable winter weather” means fifty degrees and occasional rain.

Then again, it’s been 70 this February, whereas last year’s Camptathalon was cold and rainy, so this might be serving the opposite purpose this year. In fact, we couldn’t go to the spot we had originally booked because it was snowed in. After five years of drought, we forgot about that whole “snow” thing. Probably for the best. The plan had been to go to the same campsite two years in a row, which is just wrong. Mother Nature intervened to maintain order in this chaotic world.

I should also note that, since it rained most of the day Friday, much more alcohol was consumed than usual.

You can read about the origins of Camptathalon here, but the tl;dr is that it is an, um, athletic? competitive? um, it’s a contest that takes place over a camping weekend betwixt four to six middle-aged men. We then timestamp everything that is said. Six months later I transcribe said script, with neither comment nor context, and we can all attempt to figure out why the fuck some drunks thought that was funny enough to write down six months ago.

Thursday Night (indeterminate time): Sparky and Tony show up.

8:51 Sparky almost sets forest on fire, and he hasn’t even had a beer yet.
8:57 Early bird gets the worm. Dude, it’s almost, 9:00, lazy bird.
9:26 Rick shows up.
10:21 “Let’s do Home Run Derby over the creek.”
“That’s a horrible fucking idea.”100_5438.JPG
10:25 First Homo Moment: Rick and Sparky’s armrests brush up against each other.
10:52 “It’s starting to come. See? That’s a sizeable crack.”
10:58 Sparky reminisces about going to Butt Lake for the first time.
11:19 Chris arrives with Dick Butt. Tony photographs Dick Butt.100_5442.JPG

11:29 First “That’s what she said” of the weekend.
11:32 I paid 50 cents for a romance book by Christine Rimmer. Gonna be pissed if there are no rimjobs in it.
11:33 Hail
11:45 “There’s a flame!”
“Mother Nature blows better than I do.”
12:11 McGyver arrives with more tarps. Rain and hail ensue.100_5446.JPG
13:00 Everyone wants a Bangy Khan!
13:01 Sparky: “It’ll stop raining soon.” Bullshit.
13:03 Sun comes out. “You son of a bitch, Sparky.”
13:18 It would be a perfect day if it stopped raining. Kinda like it would be a perfect date if only she’d give me a blow job.
13:25 Re Donnie Moore: “Apparently he could locate a bullet better than a fastball.”
13:27 “At least we don’t need to worry about bears. They are fucking hibernating right now.”
13:34 Put Dick Butt in the bear locker. Bear might want to look at him before heading to class.
13:58 Chris tells about something.
14:10 John arrives. Camptathalon may begin.100_5458.JPG
14:15 Hail, round three.
14:31 “What DOESN’T go with a 14-year old Thai whore?”
14:35 Entire kitchen blows over in wind.
14:49 First go thru of 1990 Topps Baseball Card set bought at thrift store.100_5450.JPG
14:59 Hail, Round Four
15:00 “I will see your Otis Nixon and raise you.”
15:12 “Chafing means ‘I Love You.'”
15:20 Where does Tony snore? See where the light touches.”
15:25 Hail, Round Five.
15:35 Official Camptathalon Opening Toast.20170609_152944.jpg
15:48 “I will share this with you because I’ve been drinking all day.”
16:20 First Camptathalon Event: Poker.
16:24 General discussion of point value for Camptathalon events. Reward winner (5 pts, 3, 2, 1, 0) or punish loser (5, 4, 3, 2, 0). Punish loser wins.
17:05 Re: weather. “Oh, it’s going to be fine.” “Fuck you.”
17:30 “I love balls. They’re so wrong, but they’re so good.”
17:37 Sparky “wins” loser libation by being first eliminated from poker. Loser libation is: Mickeys 40. “Don’t worry, I didn’t keep it cold.”100_5460.JPG
18:31 Loser Libation has been vanquished.
18:45 Rick out, John out. Losers start 1-4-24.
20:11 Rick is a cocksucker. 1-4-24, bitches.
20:50 Draft (Stolen from the Poscast): Best President: (Editor’s Note: Our drafts were snake style, so John picked Polk with pick #4 and JFK with Pick #5, Garfield was last pick of draft)
Tony                   Chris       Sparky      Rick           John
T.R.                    Lincoln   Truman   Jefferson   Polk
Wilson               FDR          Ike            Reagan       JFK
Washington    Obama   Madison   Nixon   McKinley
Garfield           Clinton    Taft         Adams   J.Q. Adams

Second draft: Beer
John                                 Rick                        Sparky                        Chris                 Tony
Negro Modelo        Sier Nev Pale        Innis & Gunn            Red Trolley         Fat Tire
Ballast Pt Sculpin   Shiner Bock   Sam Ad Winter Lag.    Boont Amber   Pliney Elder
Hamms Select       Arrogant Bastard       Smithwicks          Wookie Jack       805
Weinhardts     Miller High Life     Scrimshaw      Blackhawk Stout   Sam Ad Boston L

Third draft: Horror movies
Rick                                        John                    Tony              Sparky                  Chris
Friday the 13th                Halloween         Shining     Children of  Corn        Alien
Nightmare/Elm Street   Jaws             Poltergeist         Scream          Cabin in Woods
The Thing                      The Ring           The Grudge       Identity                 1408
Silence of Lambs   House 1,000 Corpses    The Others    Cujo             Donnie Darko

23:05 There’s a lot of 1990 Topps cards around the fire. I don’t think the bears care about 1990 Topps cards.


7:00 Rick, Sparky awake.
7:09 “Where are my baseball cards?”
7:59 “I made a decision and it was probably a poor one.”
8:00 “On second thought, maybe I did yack last night.”
8:53 We have not seen John yet, but have heard rumors he is alive, so that’s good.
9:10 Breakfast complete. Trips to the shitter on the docket.
9:22 Someone left the lotion by the rimjob book.
9:54 John finally emerges
9:57 Official Motto of 2017 Camptathalon: Many decisions were made, and most were poor.
10:04 Event #2: Chipping
10:20 Standings: Rick – 8, Chris – 7, John – 6, Tony – 4, Sparky – 3
11:04 Mehkong comes out to play. Confidence is high (EDITOR’S NOTE: Chris brought some Thai rice whiskey. Much of it had been drunk Friday night, but not noted).
11:50 Event 3: Home Run Derby
12:05 Worst. Home Run Derby. Ever. First round: two with 0 HR, three with 1. Sparky beats Tony in the “Jack-Off” for last place, three jacks to one.

12:36 Standings: John, Chris, and Rick – 11, Sparky- 5, Tony – 4
13:26 “It’s all gone downhill.”
13:37 Do we really have to do the fucking butter toss?
(Editor’s Note: Two hour time jump. Naps being taken.)
15:54 Oregon Trail card game: Non-sanctioned Camptathalon event. (Coop played earlier, forgot to timestamp)
16:15 Sparky dies of dysentery
16:20 Chris dies of snake bite.
16:31 Tony dies of snake bite.
16:34 Rick made it to Oregon.
16:35 Adventure Bocce
17:20 Sparky and John engage in a “Toss Off” to determine third place.
17:25 Standings: Rick – 18, Chris – 16, John – 13, Sparky – 12, Tony – 11
17:32 John’s first beer of the day. Don’t call it a comeback!
18:50 Final Event: Cards Against Humanity
19:00 John gets 7th card, finishes Camptathalon with 18.
19:10 Chris gets 7th card, finishes Camptathalon with 20 points. If Rick goes out next, he wins. If not, Chris wins. The tension is high.
19:17 Rick gets 7th card, finishes Camptathalon with 21 points and the victory.
19:18 Sparky finishes with 14 points, Tony with 11.
20:33 Tony yacks. That makes three of the five of us. 60% is passing.

Put the wood in the bear locker. In case the bear has woodshop tomorrow.
Cheese Balls 2, Campers 0


Olympic Curling Guide

It’s the Most! Wonderful! Time… of the year.

Christmas? Bah! Valentine’s Day? Nope. Live Punxsutawney updates? Umm, maybe, but that’s not what this specific post is about.

It’s Curling-on-TV season!

You might know this, incorrectly, as the “Winter Olympics.” But there’s really only one reason to watch the Winter Olympics.

Okay, maybe two. Matt Hamilton’s porn-stache and the Norwegian team’s pants. But both of those will only be seen during curling matches.

As many of you long-time readers (ie people who know me in real life) know, I took up curling four years ago this month. You can read about it here, but here’s the tl;dr: it had always fascinated me and while watching the last Olympics, I decided to google if there was any place I could curl within, say, a hundred miles. Turned out that, yes, they curled about five miles from my house. Who knew?

So I did my very first Learn-to-Curl in February of 2014. Since then, I’ve become a league coordinator and drawmaster (“schedule dude”) for a number of bonspiels (curling tournaments). I’ve curled six different places in California (again, who knew?) and have traveled to Seattle and Vegas to compete. I’ve won two different bonspiels (not the A-Bracket, but if I get my picture taken with a trophy, it’s a fucking win).

I’ve met and competed against former Olympians. I even beat one! Once. Out of six attempts. I’m now 1-5 against Edie Loudon (she lives nearby, so I see her often). And maybe 0-4 against all other professional curlers.

The trick to beating an Olympic curler? Beat the other people on their team. It also helps if you catch her on the last day of a double-bonspiel, meaning she’s curled about eight times over the last 48 hours. I know it doesn’t look like it on TV, but curling is tiring.

I even met Olympic gold-medalist Kaitlyn Lawes and she let me touch her gold medal. And no, that’s not a pervy euphemism. She literally let me touch her literal gold medal. Look:

Gold Medal.jpg

I think I was even more excited by that picture than if she had let me “touch her gold medal.”

Professional curlers are very nice. Kaitlyn even said I could take a picture with just the gold medal. I figured she should probably be in the picture, because a) she’s cute, and b) she earned it. But man, if that were my gold medal, I wouldn’t let somebody touch it, much less take a picture with it around their neck. You try to take that thing from me, you better be an Olympic biathlete.

And now it’s another Olympic year. The requisite “Hey, check out this quirky sport” stories are running in media outlets everywhere. We love it at our club. A year ago, we couldn’t beg enough to get a mention in local media. In the past six weeks, we’re getting contacts from newspapers, radio, and local TV (the NBC affiliate, naturally). Our Learn-to-Curl program, which often has only one or two customers, is booked solid. We’ve put 100 people through a LTC in the past two months, and the Olympics hadn’t even started yet. We even added a second class most weeks and people are willing to come out at 7:45 Sunday morning to try it.

So yay, curling on TV.

Of course, I can usually find it any time I want. ESPN3 shows most of the upper-tier Canadian curling. American curling is a little harder to find, but that’s okay, because it’s not as good. I know it’s ironic that Canadian curling is easier to find in the U.S. than American curling, but there’s a reason the Canadians dominate the sport. It makes it a little hard on my Olympic rooting interests, but the Americans usually make that easy by being in last place.

But there’s still something special about watching in the Olympics. It’s the one time NBC doesn’t fuck up the flow of the game with asinine editing. During their normal broadcasts, “Curling Night in America,” they jam a three-hour game into about ninety minutes. So they’ll finish one end (like an inning in baseball), take a commercial break, and when they come back, there’s already six stones in play in the next end. Or they skipped an entire end. Imagine watching the World Series and, after the first inning, they jumped ahead to the sixth and said “Oh, by the way, the score is now seven to five.” That’s how the average curling match goes on NBC. Also, since it’s edited to fit into two hours, a lot of the drama is gone. Are they going to tie it up and force an extra end? Oh, it’s 7:50, so I guess not.

I’m not saying NBC doesn’t fuck up coverage in the Olympics, but at least it’s fucked up in the normal way. They show two ends, then go away for twenty minutes of luge, then come back. That’s just Olympics 101. At least they have an app now.

This year, they’ve added a new round of curling called mixed doubles. In it, each team only has two players instead of the usual four. Each end only has five stones, instead of eight. So the games take about half as long.

I’m undecided on mixed doubles. It’s not real curling. It’s a made-for-TV sport. But maybe that’s not a bad thing.

I’ve tried mixed double before. Well, maybe not mixed doubles, because I was curling with another dude, but “open” doubles. It’s a weird beast. In normal curling, you have your skip making a target with his broom at the other end of the sheet. Then you have two other team members to sweep your rock. In mixed doubles, you only have one other teammate, so one of those vital pieces are gone. You’re either aiming at nothing or you have to sweep your own rock.

When it was first designed, the assumption was that people would still want a target, so they would sweep their own rock. It’s not that difficult. Most mediocre curlers can jump up and follow their rock. A lot of us jump up and follow our rock, anyway.

The first time I tried mixed doubles, the person holding the broom said I was coming out in the right direction, but something was happening to the rock when I released it. Turns out I was subconsciously clipping my release in order to jump up and sweep. Add to that the fact that I’m losing about fifty percent of my sweeping power because one of my shoes has a Teflon bottom, which isn’t great for leverage. I also have a tendency to start sliding faster than my rock, so pretty soon I’m sweeping backward.

I guess I wasn’t alone, because the next time I saw professionals playing it, their strategies had changed, too. Now many of them opt to have their teammate sweep their rock instead of providing the target. Depends on the curler and depends on the shot.

So that’s a little “inside curling” you can wow your friends with. Watch for when their teammate is right next to them and when they’re at the other end. If the former, they care more about weight than location. If it’s the latter, they’re probably trying to draw through a smaller port.

Mixed doubles works better for TV because there are more rocks in play. An end in team curling can last twenty minutes and resolve nothing. I’ve seen a number of matches where one team throws a guard, the other team hits that guard out, and the first team throws another guard, for six shots in a row. That can get tedious. Then with the final shot, there’s one rock in the house (bulls-eye), and the skip hits it out to score zero because that’s a sound strategy. In mixed doubles, you almost never see a blank end (no score). Usually there’s six or eight rocks in the house.

In addition to those “This Crazy Sport” articles we see this part of the quadrennial, I’ve seen a fair number this year that lead with “It’s not as easy as it looks.” Um, yes and no. Is it a difficult sport to learn? No. You can do it in an hour or so. But at the Olympic level? Yeah, that’s tough. They’re good. Again, compare it to baseball. Is swinging a bat and making contact with a ball difficult? No. Most five-year olds can do it. But I wouldn’t like my chances standing in against Justin Verlander.

Curling’s the same way. The professionals play at an entirely different level. They see angles that don’t exist at the amateur level. Sometimes I’ll wonder why they are calling a certain shot. Then they’ll ricochet off three stones, just as they planned it, and I realize “Oh, they called that shot because they can hit that shot. I would’ve knocked my opponent’s stones in if I tried that.”

That whole “knowing what they’re throwing,” is one of the great reasons to watch curling on TV – you can hear them discuss their strategy and sometimes the two of them will debate what to throw, giving the viewer insight we don’t get in other sports. The catcher and pitcher use secret signs to debate their strategy. We don’t get to listen in on an NFL huddle. But in curling, they’ll say where they want to hit a certain rock and what they think it’ll do if they hit it there.

So check it out. Listen to the skips.

And trust me, it’s just as easy as it looks. Come on out to your local club and we’ll show you just how “easy” it is 😉

Children’s TV Review, Part I

My daughter is three-and-a-half years old now and well on her way to her proper place as a proud American. What I mean is, she watches a shit-ton of TV.

I know, I know. Screen time is bad and should be limited and blah, blah, blah. You know what else should be limited? Microwaved dinners and me teaching teenagers in my underwear. And if I’m going to have time to cook a wholesome meal and, you know, shower, the kid’s going to suckle on a little of that boob-tube teat.

As a result, I’ve come to experience a sizable cross-section of the current children’s television crop. Both of the Juniors, Nick and Disney, have full lineups. Some of it is enjoyable for young and old, some of it is kinda boring for both. And then there are the demonspawn shows – the ones that my daughter enjoys but that are absolutely horrific for the adults in the house.

I’m going to start with some of the good and mediocre. Come back next week for the shit storms.

Dora the Explorer. I know this isn’t a new show. My students all grew up with it. Even my nieces, who are in their twenties, watched the early seasons.

I assumed I would not like Dora. I’m not sure why. Maybe because it came out during the years of Barney and the Teletubbies, I figured it can’t be good. Or maybe I thought it was an artificial attempt at forced bilingualism. Or maybe I assumed that, if she thought Dora and Explorer rhymed, she must be from Boston.

Quick game: find a Republican and ask him what’s more offensive, a Spanish accent or a Mass-hole accent.

But it’s actually pretty enjoyable to watch. The bilingualism is not forced. As opposed to Sesame Street (or every first-year language class ever), it does not just come up with a word, repeat it multiple time, and then makes an artificial skit designed to illicit the one word of the day. Seriously, how often am I going to ask for milk at the library? Dora talks like a real bilingual person. Sometimes she’ll drop a word or two of Spanish into her normal speak, then she’ll turn to the camera and explain what that word meant. “In Spanish, we say leche and biblioteca.”

Sometimes Dora needs to interpret for people she encounters who are unilingual.

Dora is usually on an adventure. There are always three steps, and she will repeat them over and over again. When one’s been accomplished, she’ll still repeat them,  say “Check,” and write a check on the map. Now when I need to take my daughter on errands, we play like Dora “We need to go through  the pasta aisle, around the dairy fridge, then pay at the cashier. Did we go through the pasta aisle? Check!”

The interactions with the audience, which is a staple in children’s television, seems to work, too. My daughter isn’t very likely to respond when Mickey Mouse or Elmo asks her which direction they should go. But Dora asks with a certain cadence and repetition that gets my daughter to respond. Even in very mangled Spanish sometimes. “Should I take the rojo or the verde path?” Dora asks, and my daughter shouts out “Bair-day!”

And the songs are catchy as hell. My students laugh whenever I pull up maps in history class now, because I sing the “I’m the map” song. Seriously, go look up “Grumpy Old Troll” and see if it’s not stuck in your head later. No? Watch it twenty more times and you’ll know what it’s like having kids.

Goldie and Bear. So, evidently Goldilocks and Baby Bear are friends now. And they live in a land with modern twists on fairy tale characters. Humpty Dumpty’s a nerd who always has his head in a book. The three pigs are makeshift carpenters who fix most of the property damage that tends to occur on a regular basis. Their names are Bailey, Twigs, and Brix. Big Bad Wolf occasionally tries to be good, but is still obsessed with Little Red Riding Hood’s muffins. Fairy Godmother is a trainwreck – half of her spells go awry.

Shows revolve around some extension of fairy tales. In one episode, they have a lottery to see who gets to ride the cow when she jumps over the moon. Goldie wins and Bear wants to feel happy for her but is bummed out. But then the cow is scared by a mouse that is attracted to Big Bad’s cheese sandwich and leaps early with both Goldie and Bear on her back. In another episode, everything in the land falling apart because the pigs are arguing over straw, wood, and brick.  Bear’s father sings about fishing in one show, and in another one, Bear is allergic to Goldie’s new shampoo (another Fairy Godmother screw up) right before a dual pogo stick contest.

The shows are pretty fun to watch. Each episode has two 15-minute shows. Or is it every show has two episodes? Whatever. Each 30-minute block contains two 15-minute subdivisions. Each show has an original song (unlike Dora, these songs are not repeated every episode but are based on the current situation). The songs have varying beats and clever lyrics.

I think there might or might not be a morale or a lesson in most of them. Whatever.

A couple of problems with the show. First, it’s new, so whereas Dora has over a hundred episodes to cycle through, Goldie and Bear had a whopping 22. Let me tell you, 22 episodes ain’t a lot when one’s child watches nothing else for an entire month. You know it’s bad when even a three-year old says, “We already watched that one.”

They finally started a second season about a month ago. My wife and I were ecstatic, but my daughter had almost forgotten about the show by then. So far, the second season seems a little lackluster. Classic “Prison Break” syndrome.

I also have issue with the lack of swag for this show. It’s on Disney. How are they not inundating us with plushes and shirts and toy sets? The Disney Store and Toys R Us both have sections devoted to “Puppy Dog Pals” and “Vampirina,” and those two shows have only been on for a couple of months. “Goldie and Bear” started in 2015, yet by the middle of 2016 there were still no official toys, and even by that Christmas, there were only a couple of items hidden around Toys R Us.

I assume that the lack of toys and the lack of consistency in output means that “Goldie & Bear” is not an official Disney property, but is only airing on Disney channels. I didn’t know that was possible, but it’s the only thing that makes sense. Because Disney not overpromoting a property to the point of ubiquity is like…. is like… the New England Patriots not finding a new way to cheat.

McStuffins the First of Avalor: Okay, these might actually be three different shows. I don’t know. Sometimes I’m blogging when the show is on. One is an African-American girl in a smock, another is a white girl who likes purple, and the last is a Latina in red. They… I don’t know… have problems? That they have to… solve? And maybe they sing? Not sure.

These shows aren’t bad. There have been times it seems like one of them is about to take over my child’s zeitgeist for. (Can one person have a zeitgeist? Hmmm. I’ll have to look that up the next time my child is watching TV.)

She liked “Doc McStuffins” for a week or two, but it never really stuck. She still likes the  characters.

If “Sofia the First” is on, she might pay it some attention, but she’ll never really seek it out. Again, she enjoys dressing up as Sofia and getting Sofia books, just never really cares to watch.

She’s never enjoyed “Elena of Avalor.” It could be that Elena is older than the other two and the show caters to grade-schoolers, not pre-schoolers. But the same argument could be made for the Dora sequel (Did you know Dora has a sequel?), which has Dora as a teenager, and my daughter eats that shit up.

These shows follow a standard sitcom formula. I thought an extended story over a half-hour might account for my daughter’s lack of interest. But, again, the same description could be used for Dora. Seriously, what kind of crack is Dora that makes it successful?

Anyway, not really sure why these shows haven’t really distinguished themselves or caught her imagination.

A potential exception in this genre is Vampirina. It follows in the same vein as the others, but features a little vampire girl who moved to America from Transylvania. We’ve only been watching it for about a week, but so far my daughter likes it better than the others. I like it so far. The parents oscillate between being supportive and creating their own problems – again, very sitcommy.

Of course, as a new show, we will quickly run into the “not enough episodes” problem. But at least Disney is putting Vamprina merch in stores. Too bad my daughter didn’t start watching until the week after Christmas. Actual conversation wife and I had in Toys R Us in mid-December: “Oh, hey, should we get her a Vamprina doll? That shows fun.” “Yeah, but she never asks for it. Not even sure she knows who the characters are.”

Famous last words.

But hey, Vampirina’s not a princess, so that’s a fun twist for a Disney show.  The opening lyrics even go “I may be blue with pointy teeth, but I’m not so different underneath… I’m just like you.” Maybe Disney is finally getting past the… Oh, who am I kidding? That’ll be retconned out.

Paw Patrol. Daughter’s obsession with Paw Patrol was deep but brief. We have a dog and two cats, so she might be naturally inclined toward animal shows. Within a couple days of first viewing, she could rattle off all of the dogs in rapid succession. I was still trying to get past the fact that every musical break was right out of the techno nineties. It even has a Dance, Dance Revolution rip-off!

The dogs all have civil service jobs. I’ve also been told have personalities? Marshall, the fire truck dalmatian, is clumsy. Not sure why they went with firefighters being clumsy, but whatever. The recycling dog is surprisingly not a loadie, so maybe they’re trying to break stereotypes. Although the husky’s owner is a ski instructor that’s a total loadie, so maybe they are into stereotypes after all. The organized, calm police dog and the fact that the only female in the original batch was the small, peppy, compassionate one pretty much solidifies it.

The problem with Paw Patrol is it’s a bit too formulaic. Even the writers know that. The new episodes have them running a Sea Patrol or running off to England to go all James Bond.

My daughter still likes all the characters, but she doesn’t ask for the show very often. This is fine with me, because I found the shows a bit boring. Not that boring is bad, mind you. But none of them are ever going to make a mistake, and Ryder, their “handler,” is way too goody two-shoes. Think Mister Rogers without the acerbic wit.

My daughter’s favorite character is Rubble, the bulldog construction worker. Unfortunately, Rubble isn’t allowed on girl’s clothing. I’m not going to go off on weaponized genderification or anything. I realize there are only so many different combinations of the various characters they can put on clothing. Rubble appearing by himself is rare, even on boy’s clothes. And you can get girl’s clothes with Marshall, and occasionally Chase. So it’s not entirely the fault of genderification. That being said, my daughter’s not a big Skye fan, so sometimes our options are limited.

And yes, I could put her in boys’ clothes, but the underwear doesn’t fit her great.

As a subset of Paw Patrol comes Puppy Dog Pals. This is another show that is still in its infancy. At first, I hated it. I thought it was Disney’s half-hearted attempt at stealing some of Paw Patrol’s mojo (ie merchandising power). The dogs had annoying voices and were always doing stupid things that nobody seemed to notice. One of the child voice actors can NOT carry a tune.

I’m turning around on “Puppy Dog Pals” a little. I now realize that they do all of their shenanigans when their owner is otherwise occupied. All of the humans, including their owner, can’t understand them, and even though they are solving great mysteries, they appear to just be doing typical dog stuff. Bob, their owner, is never aware that they’re the ones who fixed the problem he was whining about at the beginning of the episode. It’s kind of funny to watch the end of the episode. It goes back and forth between them excitedly telling him everything they did, then it switches to his vantage point, and the dogs are just yapping away.

A bit of a “Toy Story” vibe that is fun considering every other cartoon features animals and humans interacting with regularity.

But, ooo, that singing…

I think that’s it for the good and mediocre kids’ shows. I think I need a week or so to work up my vitriol for the remaining couple. Come back later.

Wombat’s Annual Concert Review

I’m starting this year with a slightly different retrospective. I have no friggin’ clue what the hell I did over the past twelve months or what I would like to do for the next twelve. I have a three-year old daughter at home, and both her long-term memory and planning are definitely contagious. Also, since I stopped writing for a large portion 2017 (see above: three-year old), there’s no better time to post about what I did last summer. I’m not likely to remember these things much longer.

Wait, was I saying something?

Anyway, last summer, I saw three more old-dude concerts: Mumford and Sons in June, Blues Traveler in July, and Neil Diamond in August. I know technically Mumford and Sons aren’t old dudes, but most of their fans are.

Each act was one I had seen in concert before, so it allows me to put them into a little perspective.

Mumford and Sons: This was my second viewing of Mumford. If you like their music, you should see them in concert. There always seems to be a divide between how people want concerts to sound. Some people want the songs to sound exactly like they do on the album, so they can sing along. Others figure they can listen to the album whenever they want and, for the price of a concert ticket, they want the songs to be distinctively live.

Mumford and Sons seems to split the difference. The first time I saw them, my wife asked what they were like. I said, “They sound exactly like they do on the album, only moreso.” She didn’t understand how that could be, so this time, I took her. After that show, I asked her what she thought. She said, “They sound exactly like they do on the album, only moreso.”

Every harmony, every chord, every mandolin solo, is as close an approximation of the recorded versions as you will find. You can sing along, if you want. Each note will begin exactly where it is supposed to. A couple might go on a skosh longer, but it shouldn’t be hard to figure out which ones.

I sang along at parts. How can you NOT join in with thousands of people singing “I really fucked it up this time”?

But really, you don’t want to sing along too much, because you’ll miss the “moreso.”

There are a few things that define Mumford and Sons. The emotion and the drive of their music. I don’t mean the emotion of their lyrics (see below: Blues Traveler). In fact, I have to ignore the very obvious born-again lyrics to “I Will Wait” every time I belt along at the top of my lungs.

But I have to belt it, all the same, because of the emotion of the music. It feels like it’s at a fast tempo, but it’s really not. Maybe mandolins can be strummed faster than guitars? I don’t know. Speaking of things I don’t know, is there a difference between a banjo and a mandolin or is it just based on the genre, like a violin and a fiddle?

Anyway, I have always found Mumford’s music invigorating. Even some of their slower songs seem to push forward rather than lay back. I wasn’t a fan of “Wilder Mind” when it came out, because I worried they were becoming Coldplay, but after a few listens, I realized that there was still a lot going on throughout that album.

All of what makes Mumford is on display when they’re in concert. It’s louder, obviously, but same as with tempo, I don’t think volume alone accounts for their draw. And seeing Marcus Mumford sing the lyrics, which whether I agree with them or not, are very personal to him, adds an extra layer of emotion. I don’t know how he has the voice to sing like that night after night.

Like on the album, but moreso.

I have two slight issues with my two Mumford and Sons concerts. The first time, they played a bunch of songs that they were working on for a future album. I liked them, but they were nowhere to be found when I saw them eight months later. I hope those songs, and a forthcoming album, will be appearing soon.

My other issue is the song “Winter Winds.” It is my favorite Mumford and Sons song. They have not played it either time. A quick perusal of setlists shows that they do not play it very often. Marcus, if you’re reading this, put that bad boy into the rotation.

The venue we saw Mumford and Sons at was pretty cool. It was at “The Joint” (gosh, I wonder what that name is hinting at?), a venue inside the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. Fun place, with only a couple of problems for bands with aging fans. It’s general admission, so we all had to stand in line or else we’d have to stand at the back. My wife and I arrived at the casino more than two hours before the concert started. We were going to grab a bite to eat and maybe gamble and drink a bit, but thought we would check the line first, just to be sure.

Holy shit, the line stretched for fifteen miles! Okay, maybe not that long, but in all honesty, the end of the line was in the parking garage. Meaning outside. In Vegas. In June. Yikes. Extra trooper points for my wife, though, who stood there for a half-hour holding our spot while I went in search of the elusive beer.

When they finally let us into the venue, not only was it general admission, but it was standing room only. Twenty years ago, that would’ve had mosh pit written all over it. But this was Mumford and Sons.I’m 43 and I probably lowered the average age by a year or two. So it was basically just a bunch of old people standing around for an hour.

Then for another hour during the absolute douchebag of an opening act. Seriously, he was not talented. And he was kind of an asshole in between songs. At one point he said he was from New York City and there was a smattering of boos. He seemed shocked.

“Who the hell would boo New York City?”

Umm, everybody who isn’t from New York City, dude.

“You guys are just jealous.”

And THAT’S why we all hate douchebags from New York.

But the venue was actually nice. Accoustics were good and you could get as close to the band as you wanted, body space notwithstanding. And I was even able to get a little bit of booze, too.

Holy shit, did I just pay $48 for a margarita and a Jack & Coke?

Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond is also an act I’ve seen once before. Not two years in a row, like Mumford and Sons. I think the first time I saw old Neil, Mumford was still just a son.

My first Neil Diamond concert was a bit of an aberration. I had always wanted to see him, but the price point was too high. Then the city of Stockton was opening a new arena. Stockton is a city in the central valley of California whose main claim to fame is a murder rate that rivals Detroit’s. But they’ve been trying to revitalize the downtown with a brand new minor-league ballpark, single-A but nicer than a number of AAA ballparks I’ve seen, and a 10,000-seat arena for a minor-league hockey team (I’ll be curling there at the end of the month!). Both venues, even a decade later, are beautiful. The downtown still sucks.

When the arena was first opening, they wanted a big name to open it. Last year, when Sacramento opened The  Golden One Center, they brought in Paul McCartney. But Sir Paul wouldn’t be caught dead in Stockton, so their big-namer was Neil Diamond. But there was still a problem, namely that the tickets were still pushing $100 for a city that is notoriously low on the socioeconomic scale. Oh, and it was a septuagenarian playing for a city with less than five percent of its population college-educated.

So Neil Diamond wasn’t selling and the grand opening of the brand new Stockton Arena was barreling toward a quarter-full opening night. The city manager had promised Neil Diamond $1 million to open the arena,  with the city reimbursing whatever ticket sales failed to provide. Except that particular arrangement wasn’t run by the city council. The city manager lost his job over that one. It was bad.

Except it was great for ticket price purposes. With about three days to go until the concert, somebody decided they didn’t want a lackluster opening night, so they lowered prices. All of a sudden it was $25 to see a classic rocker. I was in. Part of the fun of that first concert was trying to deduce who around me had paid full price for the same seats I got for the price of a pizza.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed with Neil Diamond that first go around. It felt like he was going through the motions. Maybe he was pissed that half the people in the audience were only seeing him because he cost less than the tank of gas they had used to get to the concert. Maybe he was just performing one of his 150 concerts a year for the 38th year in a row.

The give and take between he and his background singers felt forced and there was virtually no interaction with the audience. His clever lyrics about UB40 stealing “Red, Red Wine”  seemed a little less avant garde twenty years after said cover of said song.

My one takeaway from that first Neil Diamond concert was that he had changed the words of “Desiree” so that the girl was nearly half his age, instead of nearly twice his age. I guess that was funny when he was in his sixties, but now I kinda want him to go back to the original. If, at the age of 77, he’s becoming a man with a 144-year old lady, that’s pretty impressive. Not hot, but impressive!

I’m glad I gave Neil Diamond a second shot, because this year, he put on a really good show. It was at the aforementioned Golden One Center, the new Sacramento arena that Sacramentans said they didn’t need but has already hosted at least ten acts that never would’ve come to Sacramento before. It was Neil Diamond’s 50th anniversary tour, and that might’ve helped him find his love for performing again. Maybe he was able to pick whatever the hell he wanted to sing. He performed a couple of very early songs that have been out of the rotation since “Hot August Nights.”

He played the two sides of the arena off against each other to see who would cheer more, and at one point he turned and sang an entire song directly to the people that were cheering the loudest. I had always heard he was a big showman like this, so maybe I had just seen him on a bad night before. Maybe it was all the fault of those assholes who thought he was only worth a $25 ticket.

Unfortunately, he still played the old, tired, UB40 riff in “Red, Red Wine.” Dude, Neil. It’s been 35 years. Let it go. You don’t reference The Monkees when you sing “I’m a Believer.”

No report back on the age of Desiree this time.

Blues Traveler

I’ve been a huge Blues Traveler for most of my adult life. I listened to them constantly throughout my twenties and a good portion of my thirties. Right up until the time I discovered Mumford and Sons. I joked that if I saw Mumford (my current favorite bad) in June and Traveler (favorite band of my twenties) in July, I couldn’t wait to see the favorite band from my teens in August.

Still waiting for that Beatles reunion tour…

While 2017 marked only my second time seeing Neil Diamond (turned out he was the August concert in question) and Mumford and Sons, I don’t think I could count the number of times I’ve seen Blues Traveler. Probably somewhere between ten and twenty.

I’ve seen Blues Traveler opening for Allman Bros Band in arenas. I’ve camped out to see Blues Traveler playing both days at a weekend festival at the Laguna Seca racetrack. I saw Blues Traveler in the wave pool at the Mandalay Bay, maybe the greatest venue ever.

This time, though, didn’t rank quite as high as a pool in Vegas. It was at the California State Fair. The very same venue that has hosted a Taylor Swift cover band. Ugh.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the concerts at the State Fair. I plan which day I’ll go to the Fair based on who’s playing. I’ve seen Huey Lewis, Air Supply, Eddie Money, and Weird Al Yancovic there. It’s a standard stopping spot for bands on the Indian Casino circuit.

To say I was upset Blues Traveler had fallen so far would be inaccurate. It’s not like they were ever filling arenas on their own. Nonetheless, I was a bit dismayed. State Fair means has-been, and I don’t know if Blues Traveler ever-was. With some bands, like Air Supply, I’ve enjoyed their current circuit, because they come through town often and I’ve been able to see them repeatedly at Indian Casinos and State Fairs.

Air Supply, by the way, is a great show. You wouldn’t think they shred on their repertoire of ballads, but they do.

But my worry is that the current trajectory of Blues Traveler’s career will not lead to them playing smaller and smaller venues. My worry is that the State Fair might be signalling the end is near. It’s the canary in the mine. At least when Eddie Money plays the Fair, people see him out of 1980s nostalgia. With Blues Traveler, it’s the same fans it’s always been, there are just fewer of them.

As for the concert, it was pretty lackluster. The State Fair usually is. The acoustics aren’t great and they’re competing with the sounds of cows and the Zipper and  deep-fried vomiting. The band sounded good. They’ve been a remarkably consistent band, with pretty much the same lineup their entire career, except for the guitarist’s younger brother joining when the original bassist died. They play very well together.

I still miss Bobby Sheehan, their orginal bassist, though. They’ve never sounded quite the same. The album that came out after he died, “Bridge,” was one of my favorites, but I feel like they had been sliding before that one and have continued after.

John Popper is one of the most underrated lyricists of the last thirty years:

-Unrequited love? check out  “Alone.” “Hopes can always go up, tears can only fall down.”
-Second guessing love? “Girl Inside My Head.”  “How hard will it be if she is nice to me?How bad will it get if I let her get to know me? Should she see the willing dog or should I be a jungle cat? And most of all, my god, how does she make her eyes do that?
-One love away from figuring it all out? “Conquer Me.” “Conquer me/Figure me out and set me free… It’s not my impatience, or perhaps just there I lied/ It’s just I’m feeling invincible, and it has me terrified.”
-General melancholy? “Sweet Pain.” “Well all of my heroes up and died/ Songs and a dream are left for me/ What did them in, not suicide/ Just a lengthy friendship and a dream of how it could be”
-Friend just died? “Pretty Angry.” “And i want to shout from my guitar/ Come out come out wherever you are/ The joke is over open up your eyes/ A heart like yours it never dies.”
-Pissed off at the world? “Whoops” is a great song about environmental damage. Get it? We’re destroying the world. “Whoops!”

And you don’t have to be in a bad mood. “Optimistic Thought,” “Just For Me,” “Sweet Talking Hippie.” But seriously, who wants happy songs?

Of course, I had to go off on Popper’s lyrics, because most people only want to talk about his harmonica skills. And yes, the notes he can blow on that mouth harp are paralleled by nobody. The speed with which he blows, holy crap. You’ve never heard “Devil Went Down to Georgia” until you’ve heard John Popper play the solo on harmonica.

But here’s where I’m going to buck the trend. Popper can’t blow like he used to. The speed of the notes is still there, and I’m not saying he plays wrong notes or anything. But there used to be an intensity to his play that is lacking now.

And I think I know what it is. I’m a horrible, horrible person for saying this, but ever since he lost weight, his harmonica playing has dropped a bit. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, mind you. If he hadn’t lost his weight, he’d probably be dead by now, and a John Popper blowing at seventy percent is better than a John Popper blowing at zero percent.

See if you agree. After watching the above link, check this one out. Look at that gut. And then listen to that harmonica.

I just wish that science could build him a prosthetic gut that he could only pull out when he’s on a harmonica solo. Is that too much to ask?

The concert was free with admission to the State Fair, but you can pay extra to get reserved seating. We were about eight rows back, which was great for the first hour of the concert. Then three warmed-over hippies came to the seats right in front of us. The bastards then proceeded to stand up and do the hippie sway/twirl dance for the rest of the fucking concert. Whether the band was playing or not.

Don’t get me wrong, I expect doped up-hippies, completely unaware of their surroundings, at a Blues Traveler concert, and these three were clearly solid Blues Traveler fans since they bought their tickets before I bought mine. But hey, hippies, (no, over here hippies. I’m the one talking. Why are you looking at… never mind, just read this when you’re sober. Like, maybe when you wake up at noon, and… what? Pot is for sale in California now? You know what? Never mind).

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah. Hey, hippies, if you’re that big of Blues Traveler fans that you physically cannot sit down, even when Chan Kinchla’s re-tuning his guitar, then where the fuck were you for the first hour of the concert? Shit or get off the pot, hippies.

In this case, I’d have preferred you to get off the pot.

Wherin I Explain Why “The Last Jedi” Kicked Ass

Okay, y’all are really starting to piss me off.

Not you, of course. I’m sure my readers, reader, potential reader is awesome with the correct opinions.

I’m talking to all the rest of you. You idiots that didn’t like The Last Jedi.

Seriously, I had just finished writing a wonderful polemic about my childhood friend, Rian Johnson, and his most recent film, which happened to also be one of the best Star Wars movies of all time. While writing it, I was unaware of a burgeoning counterpoint. Evidently, some people were deluded into thinking it did not deserve the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all Time) designation.

I heard some initial rumblings over opening weekend. The Rotten Tomatoes fan score was middling around in the low-fifties, but it seemed a lot of those reviews had come in before the movie actually opened, and there were rumors of bots intentionally messing around with the score. Certainly, I knew, when real people took to their respective social media outlets, they’d all love it.

But as first the weekend, and then the following week, went on, there seemed to be a very distinctive backlash against The Last Jedi. The actual size of the backlash might be hard to discern. Two weeks in, I still believe it is a very vocal minority that is being given extra media attention based on how outlandish their cockamamie ideas are.

Recently, one of the yelly-yelly shows on ESPN wondered why people are still paying attention to the Balls, the basketball family whose middle kid dropped out of UCLA because they couldn’t single-handedly break him out of a Chinese prison. I remember thinking, “Who, other than ESPN, is paying attention to the Balls? If you don’t think people should be talking about the Balls, maybe stop leading with them every day.”

But considering the conversation amongst the Baby Boomers at my Christmas dinner table, I guess people are still talking about the Balls. And the Star Wars naysayers have also persisted. So now it’s up to me to defend a movie, and by extension a director, that shouldn’t need defending

The first set of people who seem upset with the movie are the political extremists. The right are pissed that Rose is Asian. The left is angry that Rose isn’t Asian enough. The right hates that General Hux is white. The left is pissed that Poe Dameron is white. The right isn’t sure if they like Kylo Ren as a bad guy, because he’s white but he kind of looks Jewish. If he’s Jewish, they’re okay with him being a bad guy, although they’re not too sure they like it when the maybe-Jew kills the Hitler-ish guy. That’s not how the Alt-Right believes Hitler/Jew stories are supposed to unfold. The left is upset that there are no LGBTQ characters. Holdo is, but it didn’t come up in the movie. Because it would’ve been so much more appropriate for her to grab Billie Lourd’s ass in the midst of the evacuation. Right in front of her dying mother, no less!

And don’t get me started on the force-sensitive little boy at the end. Both sides are whining, “Why did the slave have to be a white male?”

The fact that critics loved the movie pretty much sealed the ire of both sides, as well. Anyone who puts ideology ahead of facts hate the so-called experts who tell them things like the South lost the Civil War or that they should vaccinate their kids.

To both sides, I have a simple enough explanation: go fuck yourselves.

No seriously. Both of you have successfully ruined politics, humor, discourse, general civility, and pretty much everything else in our country. You just couldn’t leave Star Wars alone, could you? And be honest, you didn’t enter the movie with an open mind, did you? You went in looking for things that didn’t fit with your political alignment and proceeded to focus entirely on that. Were you aware that there was a movie with dialogue and a plot going on around all of those casting choices? Probably not.

Here’s something to assuage both sides. Alt-right: It was a long, long time ago, so it’s about as conservative as you can get. Socialists:  no planets were destroyed by human action this time.

Now go back into your corners of watching only war movies or Oscar-worthy dramas. And when you’re there, don’t forget to go fuck yourselves.

The other group that dislikes this movie did not approach it with an open mind, either. They are the people who have spent the last two years trolling around on slashfilm and other internet sites espousing their theories about the two great mysteries brought up during The Force Awakens, namely the backgrounds of Rey and Snoke. And if darthmaul-69-420 has based his entire online presence on Snoke being the love child of Palpatine and Yoda, and if he has Jar Jar as Rey’s parents in the office pool, he’s not going to be happy when neither answer is correct.

It’s an odd world we live in. People hate when questions are raised and they hate when those questions are answered. There were all sorts of petitions and calls to boycott The Walking Dead after they ended Season 6 with Negan killing an unknown character. HOW DARE YOU, they screamed, USE A COMMON STORYTELLING DEVICE? Would those people have been happier if the season ended with Abraham lying dead on the ground? Then the people who thought it would be Glenn would’ve been pissed, until Glenn was actually killed, and they would’ve been pissed again. The Walking Dead has been hemorrhaging viewers ever since that fateful decision to add some suspense to their story.

Westworld might have found the sweet spot, but that was helped by the fact that it was a little slow to catch on. It took a few episodes before people realized they were playing with timelines and putting clues and red herrings everywhere. By the time people started going back to re-watch the first few episodes for “clues” (aka the orgy scene), there were only a few episodes left and we had been promised it would be wrapped up by the end of the season. I’ll be curious to see how many people will be pissed off during the second season if it follows a similar pattern. Ten weeks might be a little long of a wait for the big payoff in this watch-an-entire-season-in-an-afternoon world we live in.

If Dallas aired today, “Who Shot JR?” would need to be solved the following week. Hell, if comment threads existed when Empire Strikes Back came out, the Rotten Tomatoes score would be filled with all sorts of “How can we even know if Darth Vader is telling the truth? How dare they bring that up if they’re not going to resolve it?”

Speaking of Empire, you are all aware that The Last Jedi is the second movie of the trilogy, right? Remember all of those questions and mysteries and mythologies of the first Star Wars trilogy? They didn’t really show up until the second movie, and then were resolved pretty early in the third movie. The first movie was a straight-forward, standalone fairy tale. If these people got their wish and Episode VIII started with a flashback of Snoke and Rey in a baby manger together, how satisfying would the next five hours of movie (counting Episode IX) be?

So the question of Rey’s parents was either going to be held over until Episode IX or it was going to be answered the way it was. And it’s very fitting. Anybody can be the hero, you don’t have to come from wonderful Skywalker sperm. Let’s not forget that in the original Star Wars (I know I’m supposed to call it A New Hope, but that was never really a thing until the prequels came out), Luke Skywalker was a nobody. And for ninety percent of Empire Strikes Back, too. Anakin started out that way, too, even if we already knew what he would become.

Speaking of Luke, that’s the other thing people are pissed about. They were hoping that Rey would show up, he’d say “Gosh, even though I have the Force, I had no clue my nephew is a bad guy or that the galaxy is in tatters. I had just retired here for shits and giggles. I guess I’ll come back, no questions asked.” Somehow that would have been more in line with his character?

Or maybe they just wanted Luke to sink an X-Wing into a swamp and mock Rey for not being able to raise it.

There had to be a pretty major reason he had exiled himself. To be true to the hero y’all seem to think he is, the best reason to exile himself would be if he felt he was bad for the galaxy.

Some people are pissed that the Extended Universe was retconned out of existence when Disney bought the rights. Those same people are now pissed that some of the things from that Extended Universe are being brought back into canon. In the Extended Universe, Luke briefly succumbed to the dark side, and he tried and failed to train Han and Leia’s son.

And if you think Luke should’ve been much more perceptive about Kylo Ren’s power or corruption, don’t forget he made a whole bunch of horrible judgments in the first trilogy. “I’m looking for a great warrior,” he said when he first met Yoda.

But whatever. “Not my Luke Skywalker.” Yeah, no shit. Your Luke Skywalker is now 65 years old. He’s Obi-Wan. He’s Yoda. He’s supposed to be a hermit that is not quite sure if the galaxy is ready for thenext generation of Jedis.

Back to Rey, have the people that are so pissed off really thought their theories trough? The two most prominent ones were that she was Luke’s daughter or Obi Wan’s granddaughter (which she may still be). How heroic does that make those deadbeat dads? Conflicted Luke is a bad thing, but Maury Skywalker would be great?

Sure, Anakin abandoned his pregnant wife, but a) Episode III retconned it so he didn’t even know he had done that, and b) he’s Darth fucking Vader.

Do we really want a movie where heroes with subtle mind-control powers are impregnating women and then skipping town? How awesome would that be on the heels of all of the sexual harassment and assault cases coming out of Hollywood and Washington this year? Not your Luke Skywalker? Of course not. He’s Harvey Weinstein’s Luke Skywalker.

I suppose in Obi-Wan’s case, there was the whole “hiding from Darth Vader” thing, but what excuse would Luke have? That he isolated himself on Ahch-To to avoid child support?

Again, I don’t know if the backlash is real. I hope it’s not. Everyone I’ve spoken to loved it. But everyone I’ve spoken to has an IQ and an ability to understand nuance.

A number of theaters have had to post a warning that the ten seconds of silence is intentional. People were complaining that the sound cut out, then cut back in. Really? Because in the theater I saw it in, there were a few gasps, followed by an awe-inspiring, simultaneous holding of two hundred breaths. It was probably the most collectively powerful scene I’ve ever seen in a theater of complete strangers.

I can’t imagine who saw that and thought “Hey, some shit just done blowed up, but there ain’t no big blowsy-upsy sounds. I want my money back.” These same people think that an entire theater’s-worth of speakers can go on the fritz simultaneously and then be fixed within ten seconds.

The simplest answer is that people wanted a predictable Star Wars movie and The Last Jedi was anything but. We’ve been indoctrinated, Empire Strikes Back notwithstanding, that there aren’t supposed to be surprises in Star Wars. The plot is supposed to follow a prescribed narrative. The missions aboard the First Order base of operations aren’t supposed to go sideways. The mercenary is not supposed to stay a mercenary. The bad guys aren’t supposed to realize there are cloaked escape ships. The force is supposed to have a very limited power set. And the hero must only come from an established, Eugenics-based bloodline that would make Hitler Palpatine proud.

People complained that The Force Awakens followed that narrative too closely, then they complained that The Last Jedi strayed from it. Welcome to 2017 America.

Now about that milking scene…

Thank God I’m Not Rian Johnson

(Note: This is a post primarily about Rian Johnson. To see my thoughts on “The Last Jedi,” click here)

Holy freaking schnickerdoodle. I just saw The Last Jedi. I might be a bit biased, but I think it’s the best Star Wars movie since, I don’t know, ever?

Oh yeah, spoiler alerts and whatnot. But seriously, you get what you deserve if you’re on the 17th page of Google results for Rian Johnson and The Last Jedi. 

It’s a long movie, but never feels dragged out. It’s longer than Revenge of the Sith, but feels about half as long. There’s so much going on with it. One review equated it to a combination of “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” Yes and no. It certainly answers a number of lingering questions and ends with a sense of optimistic finality that hasn’t wrapped up any Star Wars movie since “Jedi.”

But it didn’t follow the plot of either Episodes V or VI, like The Force Awakens did with Episode IV. Luke’s tutelage on Ahch-To (had to look that one up. I just assumed, in normal Star Wars parlance, it was “The Island Planet”) wasn’t just a rehash of Yoda on Dagobah (The Swamp Planet). The porgs weren’t just updated Ewoks. They didn’t rally together to fight a paleolithic guerilla war against the bad guys.

That one battle that ends most Star Wars movies – you know, the giant battle raging in space while a bunch of the good guys are on board the enemy vessel that’s about to be blown up – turned out to NOT be the culminating scene. The guy we all thought was the new Emperor Palpatine, who would be killed in an orgiastic lightning-fest to end Episode IX, was in fact betrayed and killed during that battle. But it turned out Snoke’s death wasn’t what the movie, or even the trilogy, had been building toward. There were still another 45 minutes in the movie.

And holy shit, how about that “light speed the other way” scene? Has there ever been a silence for that long in any other Star Wars movie? Did John Williams have to be paid extra to NOT write music for that scene?

That “this is not the ending you are looking for” is a classic Rian Johnson tactic. His other movies tend to play along according to form, then the last half-hour pushes the film into another realm, bringing into question all of the assumptions of the trope. The Brothers Bloom, which I think is his best, follows a typical con-man/heist formula. Had it faded to black on the beaches in Mexico, it would have been a standard con-man movie. But then there’s the whole Russia scene, where the target has tracked down the brothers because she had so much fun being conned. When they set up one final con, you’re not entirely sure who is scamming whom. When Adrien Brody realizes Mark Ruffalo actually died, there’s an emotion that isn’t supposed to be experienced in a heist.

Oops. Brothers Bloom spoilers, too. Sorry.

Then again, I might be a little biased when it comes to Rian Johnson. I know the guy. We went to high school together.

The bum still owes me twenty bucks, so his movies better succeed!

Just kidding. He doesn’t owe me any money. In fact, I’m pretty sure I accidentally stole his copy of “Woman of the Year” (1943) on VHS. Rian, sorry if you’ve been looking for a clean copy of “Blitzwolf” all these years.

The rest was all real, though. Rian and I went to high school together. And when I say that, I don’t mean he was some random guy that I knew the name of as we occasionally saw each other around a huge campus. We were in the same history and English classes from pretty much seventh grade on. We hung out outside of class.

When people ask me “Why are you the Wombat?” my go-to response is, “Because Rian was the Llama.”

Rian had a video camera. Shocking, right? We made movies together. Sometimes it was random. I think my first “Rian Johnson Project” was at his birthday party freshman year. I don’t recall the premise, other than we were breaking into a house and I was some sort of James Bond villain that used utensils as weapons. I think. I could be totally off.

But that was what Rian did. If he was with more than one other person, it was, “Hey, let’s make a movie.”

Where we really grew together, and where he started showing his directing chops, was 10th grade English. I don’t know if I would’ve passed Mr. Neidhardt’s class without Rian and his video camera. We had to do a project for every book we read. There were other options besides “make a video,” but those options are lost to time. Probably write a report? Papier mache? Interpretive dance?

Regardless, we did a film project for every book. Each one pushed the scope beyond the previous. It started with little things like adding subtitles. By our third film, we (and by “we,” I often mean Rian, but the rest of us contributed) were splicing together shots to make it look like a raft was going down the freeway and that two people were split seconds away from being hit by a train.

By second semester, we were trying new things. Did you know that when you throw a big Raggedy Ann doll off a cliff and film it from far enough away, it tumbles down just like a human would? And I remember the first time we did a “character disappears from the screen” trick. I said “Danny, you’re no longer needed in this scene,” and waved my stick in front of Danny. We then filmed the same stick movement without Danny, and voila! it looked like I waved my stick and he disappeared.

Amateur stuff, really. But considering we were fifteen years old and digital editing didn’t exist yet, not too shabby.

As I think back now, a lot of our later projects had very little to do with the book. We had built up enough credit with the teacher (a concept I wish more of my students understood), and honestly, I think the teacher was enjoying seeing what we were capable of, as well. Or maybe he had learned his lesson after the one time he said we couldn’t film a video, and then fell asleep during me and Brendan’s debate about whether or not Dungeons and Dragons led to violence.

I knew we should’ve gone with “Where was Alice’s bedroom in the Brady Bunch”?

With another four or five friends that weren’t in that class, we formed a filming group we called the Flat Poodles, after a Weird Al song. We continued to make films throughout junior and senior years. Junior year, Rian, Brendan, and I took an ROP videography class. The teacher was a distant cousin of the NBA player, Jeff Hornacek. I bet that’s not his go-to for “famous person I’ve had encounters with” anymore.

By senior year, I had pretty much hit my ceiling, but Rian was still going strong. He took the ROP class a second time for no credit just to get more experience with editing and the new-fangled (1991 era) computer graphics. By then, the entire school was aware of his talents. I think every rally senior year featured some Rian Johnson video showcasing something around the school. Being on the student’s side back then, it didn’t seem all that momentous. Rian was talented, why wouldn’t his work be featured? Now I’m a teacher, and it occurs to me how out of the ordinary that really was. Everybody at the school knew he was a once-in-a-generation talent.

It wasn’t just his talent behind the camera, though. He writes everything he directs. Movies, at least. I don’t think the “Breaking Bad” people were going to let him write the third-to-last episode. He’s funny and his natural intelligence and empathy comes through in everything he does. That was true back then, too. The rest of us could occasionally help with one or more of those things. I can be funny. Brendan might have gone toe-to-toe in intelligence. Joon and Craig had the whole humanity and empathy things down pat. But Rian was the glue.

An aside: Rian had a hilarious routine for Phil Collins’s “Take Me Home,” where he pretended to be a taxi driver. “So take, take me home.” “Yeah, buddy, you already said that. Where’s your home?” “But I don’t remember.” He timed it perfectly, and the dialogue went on for most of the song. I hoped the taxi driver would show up in one of his movies. Brothers Bloom was probably the best chance. It looks like his next few movies will continue to take place “a long time ago” in a galaxy where Phil Collins doesn’t exist.

But that opening sequence of The Last Jedi, where Poe keeps saying he’ll hold for General Hux was excellent, yesno?

I’ve stolen some of Rian’s ideas, in addition to his VHS tape. I suck at coming up with ideas, as is evidenced that I’m writing this the day after I saw The Last Jedi. Had I thought of it in advance, I could’ve posted this on Friday and gotten all the clickbait. But no, I’ll be posting it after the buzz is gone. Typical. And now that scintillating expose on “Dora the Explorer” that I was thinking of writing this week will be put off till the new year.

Freshman year of college, I took a creative writing class. We had to write a new story every week. While I think my writing is good, um, acceptable, I can’t come up with a new fucking idea every fucking week. Seriously, what the hell? And you want me to sign up for your advanced class? You know I’m on the verge of discovering alcohol, right?

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, ideas. Whenever I was stuck for a new flash fiction idea (we called them “short stories” back then) that quarter, I would always remember some off-hand Rian comment. “I thought it would be cool to write a story from the perspective of an ant being washed down the drain in a sink.” Or “A guy is trying to get up the courage to talk to a girl and finally gives up, will maybe try again tomorrow, even though they’re the only survivors of a nuclear holocaust.” I think I stole both of those. Probably sucked horrendously at both. But add a creative writing class at U.C. Davis to the list of classes I would have failed without Rian.

Rian’s first movie, Brick, was filmed at our high school. If you look close enough, you can see the house I grew up in on the hill behind the school. I think he already had the idea for Brick, or the beginnings of it, in high school. Senior year, he had an idea for a movie about a high school student who saw through the mirage and knew the dark dealings going on beneath the shadows. We didn’t get much into it, only filmed two scenes, but the tone seemed very familiar thirteen years later.

The role of the high-school student, later “stolen” by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, was originally played by yours truly. The part moptop, part mullet, mess of a hairdo that JGL sported in the movie was exactly what I looked like in 1992. I’m not saying I was the inspiration (yes, I am), but I definitely know that Rian equated my hairstyle to a specific type of character.

And let me go one further. Rian as a director wouldn’t exist without me. I was the first headache-of-an-actor that he ever had to “direct around.” Not in the prima donna, demanding my own dressing room, type of way. But in the “I’m a horrible actor” kind of way. Think Nicholas Cage playing Austin Powers. Over the top and punctuating every joke to death. After me, Bruce Willis must’ve been a breath of fresh air.

The last time I saw Rian was at the San Francisco opening for Brothers Bloom. Back then, he was still small time and had to/got to follow his movie around to each of its openings. I told him he needed to stop killing off all of his characters. Hollywood survives on sequels. I thought maybe he was going to become the directorial version of Leonardo di Caprio, who I believe has never acted the same role twice. It turns out Rian was just waiting for the RIGHT sequels to come along.

Although he still (spoiler alert) has the tendency to kill off main characters.

It was great seeing Rian at the Brothers Bloom premiere. Someone asked him how he got into filming, and he talked about \he and his friends grabbing the camera and running off into the canyon to, I don’t know, see what it looked like when we throw a Raggedy Andy off a cliff. I thought he was throwing out that anecdote because he knew I was in the audience. Nope. That’s just who he is.

If you see any interviews with Rian, be assured that his unassuming humility is real. Remember that the next time you think only assholes succeed. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit A FUCKING STAR WARS MOVIE AND ANOTHER TRILOGY TO COME.

My Facebook feed has been filled with well wishers this week. Most of them were tongue in cheek, “going to see a friend’s art project.” I haven’t seen a sour grape amongst them. Rian’s a guy you can’t root against. The entire SCHS Class of ’92 feels a huge bit of pride, and a small bit of ownership, for him. We referred to him as “Rian, Freaking, Johnson!” long before the rest of the world knew he deserved such a moniker.

Did we know he had a Star Wars in his future? Hell, no. It was the early 1990s and as far as we knew, Star Wars was over. The Timothy Zahn trilogy that started the Expanded Universe was just hitting the bookstores. At the time, Rian wanted to work on “Twin Peaks.” Hey, “Twin Peaks” is back, too.

But David Lynch, I knew Rian Johnson. Rian Johnson was a friend of mine. And you, David Lynch, are no Rian Johnson.

George Lucas, I’m looking at you, too.

I still sometimes show one of those 10th grade projects to my current students. It was ostensibly about “Johnny Got His Gun,” but we basically used the book as an excuse to make a “commies vs. good guys” war pic. Because Dalton Trumbo was a communist. Like I said, our teacher gave us some leeway by the end of the year. Did I mention the camera was broken for one project so we just spliced together scenes from “Three Amigos” and did voiceovers?

I show the film to my students, at least in theory, because it shows what we thought of the commies in the 1980s. Cold War propaganda and whatnot. My character’s first line is “It is good zat ve attack zem from behind, because if ve fight fair, ve are so weak.” Then we both laugh, exaggerated and simultaneous. “Hah. Hah. Hah.” Now re-read that dialogue in the style of Nicholas-Cage-as-Austin-Powers.

But the real reason I show it is to give my students a glimpse of me at their age. And, as a postscript, “Oh, that other guy? Yeah, he wrote and directed <Insert most recent Rian Johnson project here>.” This year, I added, “Here’s a YouTube clip of him on Jimmy Kimmel last week.”

This year, all three of my classes, after seeing the two of us on the same screen together and what Rian is today, asked if I was pissed.

“Why in the world would I be pissed? One of my friends is awesome!”

“Because that could’ve been you.”

“No. It really couldn’t have been.”

Even if I was an accomplished writer, I wouldn’t touch Star Wars with a ten-foot pole.

That’s how my students are, though. I don’t know if it’s an age thing (Teenagers!) or a generational thing (Millenials!) or a culture thing (Low SES!), but most of my students think another’s success is at the expense of theirs. When one of them catches a touchdown, the rest of his team is pissed that it wasn’t them.

Hopefully it’s just a teenage thing and they’ll grow out of it. I hope they get to feel the pride that comes when the most talented person you know is acknowledged for that talent. I’m sure I wasn’t as nervous as Rian was when the movie was about to start, but I probably attacked the reviews more voraciously. Oh please, oh please, oh please, I thought, let it be the best goddamned Star Wars movie ever.

And it was.

After the movie, I mentioned to my wife that, had I been Rian Johnson, after Carrie Fischer’s unfortunate death, I might have gone back in and switched who was flying the ship that went to light speed and cut the First Order ships in half. It would’ve been a fitting sacrifice for a character that we know won’t make it to Episode IX.

I also don’t think I would’ve turned Benicio del Toro. I had visions of him as the next Han Solo.

My wife’s response?

“Thank God you’re not Rian Johnson.”

Juan Valdez was a Hack

I’ve been a wine snob for almost as long as I’ve been drinking alcohol.

I come by it naturally, living in Northern California. There are probably more than 200 wineries within a couple hours’ drive. In my early twenties, even most of the wineries in Napa were free or had a very small tasting fee that went toward the purchase of wine. Until five years ago, Sonoma County was almost entirely free, and even today, most of the wineries in Amador County are free. Amador is closer to my house and even if they’re ignored by the greater zeitgeist, I will put their wines in the Pepsi Challenge against Napa Valley any day of the week.

At these wineries, you can do side-by-side tastings of different varietals. Sometimes you can taste the same varietals from different years. You learn what you like and don’t like pretty quickly. Or, if not, you at least get a decent buzz.

If you pay a little extra (or join the club), you can taste the good shit. The reserves at some wineries aren’t much different than their standard swill, but at other places, there’s a marked difference. Sometimes a run-of-the-mill winery, or a mass producer that you wouldn’t expect to have anything special, like Gallo or Beringer, make some pretty decent $40 wines.

Who knows, maybe Charles Shaw even makes a Twenty Buck Chuck.

In addition to a geographical inclination toward wine snobbery, I spent a good portion of my twenties waiting tables in a nice restaurant. There I learned the difference between truly upper-end wines and the rest. Just as I will put Amador against Napa, there are a ton of excellent substitutes for the Opus Ones and Silver Oaks of the world. I can’t tell you how often I encouraged a customer who wanted something like Silver Oak to try Rodney Strong Symmetry. They loved the change and the $20 they saved was usually redirected to my tip.

But don’t ever suggest any replacement for somebody that wants Opus One. They’ll be none too happy, and it won’t help your tip. I’ve personally never tried Opus One. A lot of people will give their curious server a swig of their specialty wine. One time, when a customer brought in wine from 1974 and I told him that was the year I was born, he refused to let me leave until I had a drink. It was very smooth. Like, almost water smooth. If he had kept it in his cellar another year, it might’ve been water.

But nobody ever lets their server take a sip of Opus One. So I can only assume it tastes like shit. Bitter, sour-grapes, shit.

The biggest secret weapon in my arsenal for anybody that was undecided was Treana Red, a tiny imprint of a small winery in the totally unknown wine region (unless you’ve seen “Sideways”) of Paso Robles. You wouldn’t expect Treana to be good. It calls itself a “red blend,” which brings to mind the horrors of Carlo Rossi jugs and Franzia boxes. But to say no customer complained after I suggested it doesn’t go far enough. Every customer I ever suggested it to thanked me and wondered how such an excellent wine could be so reasonably priced and unknown.

Seriously, go find a bottle of Treana Red. You can probably order one for less than $40 if your state doesn’t suck. Tell ’em The Wombat sent ya. They won’t know what the fuck that means, but it’ll be funny.

While my destiny as cork dork was determined by location, my evolution into a beer snob took an alternate route. For the latter part of my single years, I was a Happy Hour Hound. Needing to be sober and somewhat white-eyed, not to mention ready to teach, by 7:00 in the morning, if I decided to get blotto on a particular evening, or every particular evening, it had to be before 7:00 PM. And the best, cheapest way to get to that particular nirvana is to drink whatever swill is coming out of the middle tap. Did I know about microbrews and IBUs and ABV? Sure. If I drank a beer out at dinner, it would’ve been a Fat Tire or a Sierra Nevada or a Sam Adams. If I was grabbing a six-pack on the way home, it would follow a similar pattern.

But if I was sitting at a bar trying to get drunk, then it’s “Pass the Bud Light.”

There was a point in time I could distinguish between Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light. I was doing a “blind taste test” put on by the Miller Lite girls at a baseball game. I knew which was which right away, so I picked their brand to get better swag. She didn’t believe me. We tried it again. I was right again. She was still skeptical. Whatever, lady, just give me my light-up beads.

When I moved in with my wife, my commute extended to fifty miles. I need to be awake by 5:00 to be out of the house by 5:45. That doesn’t leave a lot of hangover time. I also have a child. The number of beers I drink on a typical day, week, or month seems infinitesimal compared to a decade ago. Drinking alcohol on a weeknight  is a rarity. As a result, on those Fridays and Saturdays where I feel like imbibing, my tolerance is virtually non-existent. Two beers, sixteen hours after I woke up, and I can’t even make it through my one half-hour of grown-up television.

Oh well, at least that episode of Dora the Explorer was especially scintillating.

A six-pack in the fridge will now last me a few weeks, not halfway through a Friday night. And if I’m only having one or two beers, I ain’t wasting them on shit.

It was a casual process, but I remember a moment last year when I met a friend for happy hour before going to a baseball game. I was three good beers in when I got to the game, which happened to be celebrating that most ubiquitous of all minor league promotions, Thirsty Thursday. I figured since I was already three beers in, I could probably switch to shit beer. After all, even Jesus said to drink the good wine before the crappy wine, then you won’t notice it as much.

Maybe wine, Jesus, but not beer. Holy crap, that was the most horrible thing I ever drank. Then I did the unthinkable: I paid for a $9 Sierra Nevada instead of the $1 Bud Light. The 30-year old inside me cringed.

But I make more money and drink less beer than the 30-year old me. So it’s quality over quantity now.

Then again, I’m not the best example of a beer snob, because I don’t like any of the hipster beer movements sweeping every microbrewery in town. Or the fact that every town has a microbrewery now. But that’s probably a story for another time.

What I’m here to talk about today is a third bit of liquid snobbery that I didn’t even know was possible, much less that it applied to me, until recently.

My name is the Wombat. And I am a coffee snob.

Did you know that there are still people in the world that drink Yuban?

Hoo-boy, there are some crappy coffees out there.  I guess I kind of knew they were out there. The coffee aisle at the grocery store is full of them. In fact, now that I mention it, the part of the coffee aisle that I actually shop from is a small portion at the very end. I assumed the rest of the aisle was taken up by, I don’t know, tea and powdered creamer. Maybe filters. But I’ve seen an awful lot of Sanka in my peripheral vision en route to the cereal.

The coffee snob started innocently enough. There’s a hipster in my department who brought in a tea kettle and a pour over kit. We have a fifteen-minute brunch between first and second period, during which we can heat enough water for two people to have a freshly-crafted brew. A couple others can brew theirs during their prep period right before or after, and the pour over spot became the modern-day equivalent of ye olde water cooler. Could we have gone standard coffee maker? Sure, but then we’d come in, pour our cup, and lose the sense of community that comes with the slow, agonizing second-half of the pour over process. Seriously, I bet an opium-molasses hybrid would strain faster than the last few drops going through the waterlogged grounds.

Hold on for a moment while I go patent Opium Molasses.

Unofficially, the “Pour Over Club” brings coffee whenever we’re running low, but it’s pure communism once the goods have been procured. Somebody might be milking the process, but as a general rule, we all need the caffeine enough that we’ll make sure there’s enough coffee. One day, nobody remembered that we ran out the day before and we had to go without. The next day, our prep area looked like this:


This is when I started to realize I was a bit of a snob. Somebody brought in Lavazza. Sounded interesting. Italian name, so it MUST be good. Turns out I wasn’t much of a fan. I figured it was just a taste thing, like an IPA, which I don’t care for but I know many beer enthusiasts love. Still, I struggled through it, because it was the only thing present and even the ugliest hooker in the whorehouse can service some needs.

Six months later, I accidentally brought some more Lavazza in. It was on sale, and I thought, “Italian name, so it MUST be good.” Maybe a little more caffeine would’ve helped me remember. The next day, two of my co-workers had brought in replacements. Turns out I wasn’t the only one that thought it was subpar. It’s not terrible, just not that great. So we kept it as a backup for the next time we ran out. It lasted most of the semester.

But one day I came in, to my horror, to discover a giant vat of Folgers waiting for me. I thought it was a joke. “Who the fuck brought Folgers?” I demanded of everybody in my department. A few of my fellow teachers don’t really drink coffee, and when they do, they sully it with flavored creamer. I started my accusations there. They all denied it. I went in backward order of who I assumed to be the most kindred coffee spirit. By the time I made it to the other snob, I thought for sure someone had lied. Except the final interogatee admitted that yes, he was the culprit. It was leftover from some function he had gone to over the weekend. One of those get-togethers where they have a huge urn full of drudge. His wife asked if we might use it at work and it was either that or throw it out. He figured, “why not?”

I thought my derision would indicate “why not,” but that wasn’t even the biggest factor. A few days later, he brewed it once to prove a point. Even the non-regulars, with their Irish Creme creamer, took a few sips and opted out. The entire thirty-ounce tub sat patiently at the back of the area until the end of the year before we dumped it. There had been a day or two with no coffee available, yet we still didn’t bust into the red vat of mediocrity. Better to go dry for the day. The headache I have on the way home will remind me to stop off and buy some more coffee.

Incidentally, after we mocked the creamer-user enough, he tried some of our coffee black. It wasn’t the bitter crap he had assumed it to be. A week or two later, he admitted that he was now drinking black coffee at home. And now that he was drinking it black, he couldn’t do the Maxwell House. But the good news was that the money being saved on creamer could go toward buying better coffee.

It’s amazing how, once you actually start tasting the coffee, you want coffee with taste. A good portion of the industry hopes you never discover that coffee can taste good.

Fortunately for me, my snobbery seems to be coming at a perfect time. There’s been a resurgence (or maybe just a surgence) of good coffee shops of late. I wouldn’t have believed it five years ago, when the common narrative was that Starbucks pushing everyone out of business. As much as I love me some gingerbread latte, Starbucks isn’t a coffee business. At best, it’s an espresso business, although with all of the specialty Frappuccinos coming out, even that moniker is faltering. Notice how few of the mermaids, dragons, and Christmas trees have coffee as their base flavor? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ordered the coffee frappuccino and had to send it back when they gave me a caramel one. “Oh sorry, we’re not used to people ordering coffee flavor.”

I’ve settled on ordering an espresso Frappuccino. They’ll give me an off look, but at least the order will be right. Or better yet, I’ll just get a Javiva at Peet’s.

But I feel like the “as sweet as possible” trend is reversing. Competitors are returning to what we now call “drip coffee,” aka coffee. The mom and pop shops have been replaced with hipster locales where they don’t crinkle their nose after I say “no cream or sugar.” Single origin, French press, Clover, and the pour over are becoming increasingly common. And don’t get me started on the wonderful things they are all doing with cold brew.

My favorite spot in this new trend is Philz Coffee in the Bay Area. Their motto is “One Cup at a Time,” and every single coffee they serve is a pour over. They have about fifteen varietals, each with tasting notes, and you can even blend more than one varietal into a single cup of coffee. After you order it, they grind the beans and “brew it” right there in front of you. When it is handed to you, there is a layer of bubbles on the top, and if you slap that lid on before you have slurped up some of those bubbles, the barista might have a nervous breakdown. How cool is that? They want you to sample the cup of coffee like it’s a bottle of wine. The entryway to snobbery is open and widening.

Unlike beer, where my preferences are very specific, I’m not particular about the coffee varietals. Dark roast, medium roast, light roast. All are fine, especially if the brewer knows that dark roast need not be the consistency of crude oil. Guatemalan? Honduran? Kona Blend and all of its attendant controversies? Sure.

Even decaf.

I’m just kidding. Decaf is a demon-spawn cocktail filtered through the devil’s own anus. Non-alcoholic beer is bad enough, but I can at least get my head around people who want to avoid alcohol. There is no reason on the planet that someone should opt to avoid the wonder that is caffeine.

And I’m not going to lie and say that I can actually taste all of those “notes of” that the descriptors say. Wine? Yeah, I can definitely sense the grapefruit in a sauvignon blanc. With zinfandel, I know I prefer a peppery one over a jammy one. But when the coffee says it tastes of hazelnut and cardamom, I’m just going to have to trust them. Even the very basic flavors or “fruity” or “nutty” doesn’t come through on my palate. I’m skeptical it’s on anybody’s. I wonder what temperature it needs to be at to get that flavor.

Whoever heard of “fruity coffee,” anyway?

But that’s okay. I’ve come to discover that there is only one flavor profile I need my coffee to have. It’s a flavor that might be a rarity in the coffee world but, thankfully, is becoming easier to find.

That flavor is: good.