Thursday, February 26, 2009

Departure: Michael Wieser

I have spent most of this evening deciding whether or not I could write this entry in a way that would not come across as seeming in some way disingenuous or coming across as trying to insert myself into the life of an acquaintance who had surely not had a thought about me in years. I guess all I can say is that I will try my best to honor the memory of one who has just passed.

First, I probably need to give a little biographical information as background for what is to follow for you readers who may not know me well. For the sake of brevity, I grew up in a small town in the southeast corner of Minnesota called La Crescent. Every town has its faults, but for the most part La Crescent was a pretty good place to grow up. Being a small town, you knew just about everybody in school, including in the grades above and below you. While I wasn't necessarily an outcast, it probably could not be said that I was popular. I also should admit that the title of this blog would be a fairly apt description of myself if I'm being totally honest. While I can get along with people all right, I wouldn't say I like that many.

I liked Mike Wieser.

Everyone liked Mike Wieser.

Mike was the best athlete in La Crescent. Of the few locally legendary athletes that donned the uniform of the Lancer, I think most people would agree that Mike Wieser was the most gifted, certainly of the male athletes. As a junior, he was awarded Coulee Region Player of the Year in basketball by the La Crosse Tribune. Within the conference, there was a 6'11" fellow junior who was given a scholarship to play ball at the University of Kentucky. Southall was six inches taller, both were post players, but Mike Wieser was the better player. He was the star tight end on the football field. He was so good that he went on to be Div. II All-American at North Dakota State and was invited to the NFL Draft Combine.

Since his success as a college athlete, Mike moved out to Las Vegas where last I heard he was working as an entertainer. He was extremely fit. Like professional athlete fit.

Now, what I left out while briefly talking about his college football career was that in 2001 he had to briefly leave football to deal with an illness he had been diagnosed with--Wilson's Disease. This accomplished athlete fit enough to not need CGI or PEDs to look like a cast member of 300 was suddenly afflicted with a genetic disorder.

He was uninsured because the astronomical costs of health insurance were unaffordable and the Wilson's Disease he had was a pre-existing condition. To make matters worse, Nevada lost its donor program last year, leaving him in a state that was unable to treat his condition if it were to worsen.

His Wilson's Disease flared up again this year. He was eventually stabilized enough to be flown to the Mayo Clinic where a liver for transplant had finally been procured, but his condition could not be stabilized enough for the surgery to take place.

He died yesterday, Wednesday, February 25th at 7:33 pm.

Obviously, the senselessness of the entire situation is beyond rationalization. I could focus on the beyond-fucked nature of the health care system, but that would be a politicization of someone's life that I do not really want to do here. A piece taking that angle is available here, by another La Crescent alum.

Mike was a great guy.

He was one of eleven children, all adopted by the eternally generous and caring Dick and Sheila Wieser. He was a three-sport star athlete in high school, was arguably the most popular guy in high school, yet he was one of the most humble, down-to-earth guys you would ever meet. I don't think I ever saw him say anything mean to anyone. With the degree of success he had, he could have gotten away with murder, but he was beyond reproach. He was certainly a much better person than I could ever have been.

So despite the fact that I could count the times I hung out with him on a remotely personal level on my hands, I have been oddly affected by his death. I say 'oddly' because other acquaintances have died young. I think I began to rationalize my affection by attributing my abnormal reaction to the ironically-wrought tragic nature of a man in such great shape having his body give out on him with the politically-tinged insurance issue adding complexity to the issue. Most of the other people I knew who died perished in vehicular accidents, which is certainly tragic, but young people die in traffic accidents all the time. Initially, I thought my remorse and sorrow over the death of someone I knew in the past was simply because of the unique circumstances of his death, with those circumstances setting him apart from those others.

But then I realized that was not the case. The tragedy is that Mike was such an exceptional person. He was such a nice guy. That is not to say these other people were not nice or decent or good or had other redeeming qualities. They were and did. Mike was different, though. I don't want to feel like I am valuing his life in death more than others', but in the end I think he did live his life in a genuinely better way than most with his kindness exceeding that of most others.

He was a great guy. Mike Wieser will be missed, even by people like me, whose lives he only touched in fleeting moments.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Musicalia: Leonard Cohen Touring

I actually intend to write another musically focused post later this evening, but I figured I'd drop in to mention quickly that I placed my order for Leonard Cohen tickets this morning. If any Austinites are interested in trying to get tickets, I can forward the email that allows you to get pre-sale tickets. Email me at my hotmail account.

Regardless, Leonard Cohen is touring everybody. This does not happen. He is setting out on his first tour since 1993. Most of you who check this site regularly can have the chance to see him at one of the tourdates here, and tickets go on sale for most of those other cities Friday, I think.

Cohen is 74. It took 16 years for this tour to happen. Another tour simply is not likely to happen. Sure, he may play a one-off if you live in New York or London or Montreal, but good luck getting a ticket to one of those shows, kiddos. My tickets were somewhere in the $85 per range.

Do yourself a favor.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tube Steak: "Psych"

I actually don't feel good about myself when I watch "Psych" usually. The show falls into the category that most USA shows tend to fall into--a little too light in tone. I think what makes me generally feel worst about liking the show is the absolutely embarrassing theme song, which especially in the show's earlier seasons was so retardedly (and no, the irony of making up an adverb using the root word of 'retarded' is not lost on me) hokey that I felt physical revulsion and was involuntarily compelled to change the channel.

But ultimately, the likeability of stars James Roday and Dulé Hill defeated the guilt I had festering in my formidable gut, and the 80's-centric humor that sprang forth from a love for the 80's (not deriving its laughs at the expense of the 80's like the abhorrent "Family Guy") kept me coming back for more.

Keeping in mind that I actually feel generally reluctant to embrace "Psych", the season finale that aired Friday was really fucking good. Co-written by Roday--who has actually had his fingers in the mix on some of the other particularly noteworthy episodes of the past two seasons, including Tuesday the 17th, American Duos, and Black and Tan: A Crime of Fashion--An Evening with Mr. Yang was actually emotionally challenging. Roday had to display some range, was required to look past falling back on his seemingly endless supply of affability, and commanded scenes while operating outside of his comfort zone.

The episode was infused with more than its fair share of tongue-in-cheek in jokes for the observant viewer--a serial killer using cereal to send messages, Shawn referring to himself as Judd Nelson on the phone only to have *spoiler* Ally Sheedy turn up later, and the usage of The Replacements' "Within Your Reach" at the end of this episode as Shawn left with his lady which happens to be the very same song playing at the end of Say Anything... when Lloyd is leaving the apartment to go to England with Diane--and included such weird references as a rat being referred to as Ben from and busy TV guest star of late Jimmi Simpson then being called Willard. Gus had to alleviate Shawn's stress by acting the part of Shawn to hilariously awkward effect. One of my personal favorite semi-forgotten actresses (Rachael Leigh Cook) made a return appearance on the show.

And honestly, the show seemed to have a degree of gravitas rarely present in an episode of any USA show, even the sleek "Burn Notice"--a show I unabashedly adore.

So, while this slightly more serious and suspenseful tone may not return in every episode, I can honestly say that I do not feel bad for liking this show anymore. That is something.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Reading Rainbow: "Killing Yourself to Live" by Chuck Klosterman

I had been putting off reading this for the simple fact that once I finished it there would be no new Klosterman books for me to read. Well, I couldn't hold off any longer.

Killing Yourself to Live recounts Chuck Klosterman's 2003 18-day road trip across America visiting rock star death sites. Over the course of this road trip, Klosterman gets into his own head and starts obsessing over the loves of his life, and by the end of the book--and a relatively long period of time in which he is left to his thoughts--he is assigning the identities of various players (down to session musicians) throughout the history of KISS to the women who have walked in and out of his life.

A work such as this could certainly step over the line of self-indulgence, but luckily Klosterman is an engaging enough writer that this never happens. As he explores death in rock 'n roll and the effect it has on people, he starts laying out theories on how Kid A predicted 9/11, how the Rhode Islanders who perished at the Great White show were actually there because the music had meant something to them, how L.A. sucks, how Stevie Nicks backing vocals on "Go Your Own Way" in which she essentially calls herself a slut are deserved because she shacked up with Don Henley, and how Led Zeppelin will be always be more popular amongst male music fans than the Beatles and the Stones because at one point in time every male believes that Led Zeppelin are the only good rock band ever. And some of his theories hold more water than others, but when he hits a nerve it sticks with you, and it is great.

And, really, that is why you read Klosterman. He is thoroughly engaging, and there are no cop-out endings like another well-known first-person writer I've mentioned here before. His insights into music are often borderline insane, but I suppose many could say the same of me and my weird posts here in which I insist that Kenneth Lonergan drew from "My Two Dads" to inspire You Can Count On Me, so I am certainly not judging him for the insanity. In fact, I laud him for indulging the tangential trajectory of his thought process and sharing it with the masses.

Killing Yourself to Live is also a breeze of a read. I read it in a day, so it certainly shouldn't take long. So in terms of what you get for your effort, the fruits far exceed the labor spent.

But don't take my word for it...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rediscovering the Past: Lynn Aloysius Belvedere!!!

If I had my way, every time someone walked into my workplace they'd be bearing the kind of news my friend Mark dropped on me today...

Having read my post about the imminent release of "Parker Lewis Can't Lose" on DVD--June 30th Motherfuckers!!!--Mark came in with the little lady and dropped this nugget on my unsuspecting ass: Shout! Factory is doing its damnedest to solidify its place in my heart as the best business in the world, adding "Mr. Belvedere" to its docket of releases. The glory that is Christopher Hewett as the titular British housekeeper that comes to live with Pittsburgh sports columnists George Owens family as Marsha Owens ventures back to law school will make its way to my DVD shelf St. Patrick's Day. Seasons One and Two will be released together that day, and I, for one, cannot wait to see Mr. Belvedere outwit Wesley at every turn while Bob Uecker embodies everything that we all wanted in fathers circa 1985 (no offense, Dad--I still love you).

This is something that I have been waiting for with almost as much energy as I have "PLCL". There were days back when I worked with one Miss Jordana Mollick* back at the coffee shop in Minneapolis where we would wax nostalgic about "Mr. Belvedere" and try to recall the lyrics from the Leon Redbone sung, Gary Portnoy co-written theme song "According to Our New Arrivals" without the degree of success we demanded of ourselves.

*I initially thought better of including your last name, Jordana, but then I thought better of it when I thought of the joy that could enter your life knowing that googling your name will connect you eternally with "Mr. Belvedere"--an honor to be sure.

And, even though, I have done this before, I am going to embed the video of the intro because I will look for any reason to get that theme song out there.

Now, as I rewatch the intro, it occurs to me that Brice Beckham looks like what I imagine my Phillies fan friend, Donald probably looked like in 1985, so ya got that goin' for ya, Donnie.

Regardless, from this point forward, I do not want anyone walking into where I'm working without a piece of news like this. Keep this in mind, ladies and gents.

Now, if only that bizarre episode of "Ned & Stacey" where Ned employs Christopher Hewett to play Mr. Belvedere in an ad campaign only to come to discover that Hewett believes himself to be Lynn Aloysius Belvedere and lives on the abandoned set of the show were included in this first DVD release...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reading Rainbow: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

This book is the second straight memoir I've read, which is kind of atypical for my reading patterns, as I tend to read much more fiction. Regardless, this was Haruki Murakami's account of what running means to him. It was an interesting read, although I suspect that if a prospective reader had little interest in running that the enjoyability of the read would be hindered slightly.

Not that you could tell by looking at me, but I was once a runner. Not a great one, but pretty good. If I'd not gone to a large university, I could have run in college. With that in mind, reading this book has given me the urge to start running again. I can only hope that my body agrees with what my mind wants it to do.

As far as the book itself is concerned, it did also allow for the reader to gain a little insight into what the author is like. Since Murakami is one of my personal favorites, I also found this aspect of the memoir appealing, but I suspect that this book has a slightly more limited audience than much of his other work which is pretty outstanding in general.

But don't take my word for it...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tube Steak: "Eastbound & Down"

Sunday saw the premiere of the new brainchild of the Ben Best, Jody Hill, Danny McBride team--best known previously for last year's release The Foot-Fist Way--"Eastbound & Down". The new HBO series is clearly inspired by the life of John Rocker, and its tone is akin to the British comedic stylings of Steve Coogan--taking the heel and making him its protagonist.

Kenny Powers's introduction is fucking brilliant. His tirades interspersed with his eroding skills and steroid allegations make for a greating establishing sequence. Tossing him into a school setting, where he has complete disregard for the decorum of the public school environment, sets the scene for countless opportunities for his language to shock and amuse.

Kenny Powers also marks yet another great comedic turn for Danny McBride who is on quite the roll as of late. While The Foot-Fist Way was only intermittently funny, McBride was outstanding as Fred Simmons. He was also hilarious in supporting turns in Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, and even in the otherwise lackluster remake of The Heartbreak Kid. While there may not be a lot of range required in playing these roles, he owns them, and Kenny Powers goes into a realm of such extreme insensitive dickishness that these other roles shy in comparison.

Regardless, it would seem that "Eastbound & Down" should thrive on HBO, where Powers can sit in his car listening to his own audiotape, curse over the intercom at his new job, circle violently around the topless herpetic he just dumped off the back of his jet-ski, and scare his nephew shitless from across the hall at night.

And Will Ferrell looking like Ric Flair in next week's episode certainly won't hurt things.

Reading Rainbow: "If I Die in a Combat Zone" by Tim O'Brien

If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home marks my third foray into Tim O'Brien's Vietnam War experience. Going After Cacciato was a compelling trip into the haze of 'Nam. The Things They Carried was one of the most deeply affective books I've ever read. This third trip into Vietnam from perhaps the most accomplished author on the subject (at least in the realm of fiction) is a much more personal book.

Unlike his books to follow, If I Die in a Combat Zone is memoir. It is his account of his reluctant tour-of-duty as a Combat Infantry soldier in My Lai a mere year after the massacre. Much as we've come to expect from most Vietnam literature and film, this is not a nostalgic look at a noble war, but rather an often scathing journal calling into question the rationale for even being at war.

As a man who seriously considered fleeing the country from boot camp, obviously he was not in favor of the U.S.'s involvement in Vietnam and did not want to risk his neck for a cause he viewed as questionable at best. When he did get there, his experience was not one entirely without valor in battle, however. There was awe at the honor and bravery with which some men carried themselves in battle, and an appreciation for the being able to conduct oneself by a fundamental code of man's ideals. But these brief explorations into the admiration of masculinity in war are outshone by the haphazard execution of a war fought on unfamiliar foreign land. In O'Brien's experience, the men in charge were largely ineffectual, boorish, and ill-suited for command, yet they were able to continue to order young men to their death for missions with little to no meaning.

If I Die in a Combat Zone is nothing if not compelling. O'Brien surely grew as a writer between this, his first book, and Going After Cacciato, his National Book Award-winning third book, but he doesn't seem to have been lacking much of the skill on display a mere five years later, and the first person account of real events add a verity that his works of fiction lack by nature.

But don't take my word for it...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rediscovering the Past: The Greatest DVD News In the History of the Letters D, V, and D

I may have mentioned before that I have an undying love for the television series "Parker Lewis Can't Lose". I say 'may have', but you can read that as meaning 'have definitely' because I have gone so far as to post the entire pilot episode in embedded video form. That was one of but a few "Parker Lewis" posts. This is the best of all.

Apparently the folks over at Shout! Factory have secured the rights for DVD release, and we can be expecting the release of the first season later this year. The article is here. I was informed via email, as I am of course on a mailing list for any such news.

You have no idea how fucking pumped I am for this. And Shout! were the crew responsible for the "Freaks and Geeks" DVD sets, which are quite possibly the most special feature laden, all-encompassing, overflowing-with-love DVD release in the history of the medium. Thank God PLCL will not be getting the haphazard "Get A Life" three volume greatest hits treatment. Thank God for Shout! Factory.

Rediscovering the Past: Two Types of People

So if I have one burgeoning social theory, begging to be fleshed out even more entirely than I will endeavor to undertake in this entry, it is that there are two types of people in this world. No, not cat people and dog people. Not Type A and B personalities. Not even men and women--hermaphrodites, anyone?

No, the entire world can be broken up into two kinds of people:
  • those who prefer Back to the Future Part II for the complexities that arise from screwing with the space-time continuum and the chilling vision of Dark 1985 as brought to life by Robert Zemeckis
  • those who prefer Back to the Future Part III for the rollick of our beloved characters Marty McFly and Doc Brown in the Old West and the beauty that is Seamus McFly
I can understand both sides of this argument that shall forever plague the world, causing insufferable strife between the warring factions eternally grappling with one another over this divisive issue. I can certainly see the appeal of the in-depth exploration into the temporal complexities inherent in jumping around from 1985 to 2015 to 1985 to 1955, and the suspense derived from watching Marty tiptoe around the progress made through acts of space-time manipulation already performed. I can understand the horror that one feels when the see the effect of what can happen to the world if one corrupt soul uses the gift of time travel to his own selfish benefit.

I get that.

I am not in that camp.

At the end of the day, I want the inception of the frisbee. The action on horseback. The Wild West shootouts. The ingenuity of the modern man in a frontier setting. The overcoming of a crippling inability to rise above goading and peer pressure. The modification of the steam engine into a time machine. The riding of the hoverboard off into safety as the train is hurtling towards the canyon. The juxtaposition of ZZ Top in 1885. The actual fear that a Tannen is able to instill in the relative lawlessness of 1885 California.

These things grab a hold of my imagination and tickle my fancy.

The coup de grace, though, is the stellar turn of one Michael J. Fox as Seamus McFly. It is his revelatory portrayal of Marty's great-great grandfather, the even-keeled Irish Catholic immigrant who is not susceptible to the same flaws that often get his four-times-removed descendent into trouble and got Seamus' brother, Martin killed. It is the love Seamus is effortlessly able to summon for the stranger from a strange land that overwhelms me. Seamus has a concern for his fellow man and a willingness to open up his home to those in need that gives hope to me for a better future, even if it does all occur in the past.

So, yes, I am a Seamus McFly Man. What do you plan to do about it, naysayer?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tube Steak: "Friday Night Lights"

Unlike many of you, I am a DirecTV subscriber and therefore have been able to see season three of "Friday Night Lights" in its entirety. What is to follow will likely be chock-full of spoilers, so for those of you who were not motivated enough to find a way to watch something that was readily available for the resourceful, you may want to avert your gaze and kick your curiousity's ass, right now.

This third season seemed to veer away from the errant path that many fans took issue with, namely the somewhat odd Landry/Tyra storyline that ate up a lot of the first half of the series' second season. Instead, season three goes back to what works for "Friday Night Lights"--telling the stories of small town life, focusing on the people connected in some way to that town's high school football team.

Season three saw Berg, Katims, & Company go back to revelling in the simpler things. Focus returns to the relationships, the mistakes everyone makes, the great lengths regular people will go to make their own way, and the making of boys into men. The awkward pauses are savored.

The dynamic of marital equality between Eric and Tami Taylor is brought back to the fore and is spiced up with a twist when Tami begins the year as Principal Taylor. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton play well with one another and command the screen whenever they're on it. Following the final Panthers game, the speech he delivers is perhaps the most moving passage in the whole series. His saintly self-control and preternatural ability to stay above the fray--to not get sucked into the base endeavors of the less honorable--drive both Coach Taylor and the trajectory of the show, regardless of the benefit in deviating from those principles. Tami is his rock but much like he does guides others to paths that can enable them to break free from the trappings of the lives they can so easily fall into.

The send-offs for Street and Smash are befitting the characters and give hope. The characters did not have much further to go within the confines of the series, but their future--enabled by grit and determination in the face of adversity--seems bright.

The iniquity of life is illustrated again and again through the struggles of the likeable Matt Saracen. The senior who has started for the greater part of two straight years sees a challenger of the douchebag variety unseat him, and the senior captain is suddenly a man without a position, left to drift much of his senior season, left to tend to his slipping grandmother, left to deal with the conflict of whether to do what is best for himself or best for those he loves--flawed as they may be.

Taylor Kitsch takes the role of Tim Riggins and steeps him with a cocksure swagger that at this advanced stage in the series there is little doubt must be innate--the affable man's man intent on "making memories" who carries himself as a bit of a fuck up but is really the glue, the ignitor, and the model of a man, living his life to his own code of honor in which only he is culpable for his own actions but will bend over backwards to make right by everyone he holds dear without want for recognition or appreciation.

As the season (and sadly, likely the series as well) closes, the McCoys act the foil to the better Coach Taylor, sullying the just with the sway of their money, and the arc of a new season seems to be at the ready. Its potential is certainly there, and while the likelihood of its continuation is next to nil, we can all hope for more.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Reading Rainbow: "Darkness, Take My Hand" by Dennis Lehane

Darkness, Take My Hand is the second book in the series featuring Boston private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. This was, of course, the investigative team featured in the film Gone Baby Gone, the film adaptation of the fourth book in the series. This book finds Kenzie and Gennaro still partners in business only, taking on a case referred to them by a friend. After a few uneventful weeks on the case, they remove themselves from the case believing themselves to be wasting their time and their client's money.
Soon they find themselves in the midst of a grotesque killing spree, at the mercy of a serial killer intent on inserting the two squarely in the middle of the action.

Lehane's prose is gripping and effortless. His ability to illustrate the horror of the killer's heinous acts is adept to say the least. The narrative voice of Patrick Kenzie flows forth from Lehane's pen seemingly without effort, and that voice is one with which you want to see the ride to its end. His books are intensely violent and immensely readable. It is easy to see why David Simon and Ed Burns would have wanted to enlist Lehane to their troop of novelists-cum-screenwriters, as he dives in to the murky waters of the crime-ridden streets of the Boston area with a deft hand and clear vision, often startling the reader with the extreme violence and warped pathology of the criminal mind.

But don't take my word for it...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Rediscovering the Past: One Small Problem with "Say Anything..."

During the Super Bowl, my friends and I got to talking about how we all actually quite liked what Cameron Crowe does when he's at his best. Obviously, "his best" does not include or Elizabethtown or Vanilla Sky. I would extend that exclusion to the likes of Jerry Maguire and even Singles*, which I can understand other people liking but never did much for me. But, much to my surprise, we all were fans of Almost Famous, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (yes, I know he only wrote it, but he also fucking lived it, so I'll give it to him), and Say Anything...

*One of my main qualms with Singles is the fact that none of the cast strike me as being even remotely twenty-something. Matt Dillon seemed much more like a 33-year-old in the grunge scene. Campbell Scott was born 35 years old and had the job of a 35-year-old. If he walks like a duck, and talks like a duck... Has Kyra Sedgwick ever seemed young? I guess maybe Bridget Fonda seemed that young, but if she's the only one of the principle cast then I think my complaint is legitimized. Side-note (within a sidenote--I know--ironic): Jim True-Frost (Prezbo from "The Wire") was in this movie. It's weird when you find out that someone you grew to appreciate so much later in their career turns out to have been in something like Singles.

Now, I absolutely loved Say Anything... I think Cusack is fucking great in it. He really captures the vulnerability and uncertainty of being a high school grad with a blank slate for a future. Ione Skye is plain-looking enough that you can actually buy her as "the brain" that would have felt like just enough of an outsider to warrant her lack of popularity, while being attractive enough for Lloyd Dobler to have become infatuated with her from afar.

My love for the film aside, I happened to catch it the other morning on TV and noticed a problem with it. At the end of the film, Lloyd and Diane go to prison to visit her father. Lloyd and Diane started dating as school let out, after graduation. She was expected to leave early for school in England. They had, what, two months together?

Now for a good chunk of that two months--or for the sake of narrative leniency, let's say three months--Lloyd and Diane are together. Then they break up, and she gives him a pen. She discovers her dad (does this also mean that Diane Court is Frasier and Niles' sister?...) has been stealing from the elderly. Then suddenly, his lawyer is cutting a deal and Mr. Court is in jail.

It just seems to me that he is escorted through the bowels of the American legal system way too quickly. Obviously, it's a movie and there's a timeline that needs to be met. This isn't even an issue that bothers me enough to take away from the immense enjoyment I derive from the film, but it seems like Cameron Crowe did not have a firm grasp on the lethargy inherent in the proceedings of the legal system when he wrote the screenplay.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Rediscovering the Past: Jason Bateman - Kid Satan

We all know and love Jason Bateman from "Arrested Development". We all remember when he stepped into the ring without the power of the wolf in the moving climax in Teen Wolf Too. His procurement of a condom when that old friend of the family came to town for a campus visit at Northwestern was historic not only because it marked the first time 'condom' was said on US broadcast television but also because that episode of "Valerie" was when Jason Bateman became a man.

But before all that Jason Bateman was like an evil Ferris Bueller in the short-lived series, "It's Your Move". Here's a taste:

Obviously, the video quality could be better, but that show was surprisingly dark, especially as you get deeper into the series. He is really quite evil, and it's pretty goddamn awesome.

Reading Rainbow: American Pastoral by Philip Roth

For reasons that are entirely beyond explanation, American Pastoral marked my first foray into the writings of Philip Roth. I majored in English. I read fairly heavily--certainly by today's standards. When I am moving at my best reading clip, I read about a book per week. Yet I had never read anything by "the greatest living American author".

Whether or not that oft-attached modifier is apropos, I have yet to come to decide for myself, but American Pastoral had enough going for it that I can at least see the grounds by which one may make that argument and not be insanely off base.

American Pastoral tells the tale of how a senseless act of violence can ruin a family. It picks up as Nathan Zuckerman (Roth's alter-ego) is attending his 45th high school reunion and happens to have recently crossed paths with Seymour "Swede" Levov, the blond-haired Jewish high school sports god from his youth. The Swede lived a pretty charmed life and did everything right. He married Miss New Jersey. He successfully took over his father's business when he came of age and moved out to the Jersey countryside to raise his family. At the reunion, Nathan discovers that The Swede died shortly after the two had met and that in 1968, the Swede's daughter had set off a bomb in the idyllic small town of Old Rimrock, killing one in an attempt to bring the war home

From there on, Zuckerman explores the Swede's past in an ultimately futile search to bring reason and understanding to his daughter's act of violence, which is--in totality--senseless.

There is a love that Roth clearly has for all of his characters. An impartiality, too. His journey into the destruction of the American dream is stirring, heartbreaking, and mesmerizing. While his prose does occasionally run long, with adherence to standard sentence structure furthest from his mind both in the writing and editing phase, his thoughts never get so labyrinthine as to prohibit the reader from coming out on the other side. It certainly is not light reading, but it never gets anywhere near the laborious nature of, say, Thomas Pynchon or James Joyce.

American Pastoral took me a little longer than I would have liked, but I certainly do not intend to put off reading the next Roth book I have picked up recently, The Plot Against America, even with the knowledge in hand that it may not be the quickest of reads. So if you have not read American Pastoral, I think it works well.

But don't take my word for it...
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