Monday, September 22, 2008


In recent weeks, through the means of Facebook, I've been able to catch up with a lot of old friends from high school, electronically, telephonically, and physically (the last not being in the biblical sense, thank you). It's been almost 20 years since I've seen these people, heard from these people, or caught up with their lives. I, being the eternal bachelor, was admittedly a bit bummed from seeing the pictures of classmates' families, spouses, and the like. Perhaps it's simply a case of "life envy" and rather unfounded, as we all choose are own paths in this little journey, but then again, the grass is always greener. Reunions invariably conjure up a sense of self-examination; comparison to others who, many years ago in high school, were at the same starting gate, with the same opportunities and future. For the most part, the process of being back in touch with high school classmates has been great. A few of us have already met up to rehash old times, revisit old memories, and see how everyone looks.

The same people I occasionally envied for their establishing families have also occasionally been ones to send me messages complaining how burned out they are from shuttling kids around to various activities. While these apparent renditions of domestic bliss might be compelling, there is always another side to having a family, and it envelops 90% of one's time. I have yet to do the family thing, and sometimes, in the face of my advancing age, I regret it. A lot of my fellow classmates trumpet pictures of their kids, and that merely shows the good, not the uglier moments when kids are puking all over, getting suspended from school, or wrecking the car. To that end, I console myself by realizing that having kids and a family is tiring but rewarding, and that the facade presented on Facebook might be just that - a facade. It's been very strange to be out of touch with people for 20 years, then to pick up and talk again, after so many years of change. Many of these people have sons and daughters in high school, which is still mind-blowing to me. One old friend is even poised to be a grandmother. Comprehending all this, having known such people when they were kids themselves, is at best, a challenge. On a positive note, I've realized that most of those classmates never moved out of the metropolitan area, and as statistics dictate, a vast majority of people live their entire lives within 50 miles of their birthplaces.

Many times, pundits have said how people don't change. I find that to be very inaccurate. Most of the people I've reconnected with are of a different mindset than from the days of high school. The years after high school are most likely to define one's character, goals, and philosophy. High school is merely a starting point, not a defining point. I've seen so many classmates change radically after 20 years, and why should I be surprised? It's been 20 years of the most volatile times in an adult's life. Many of the close friends of mine from those days are now completely different people, in appearance, ideals, and status. Some have risen to greatness, some haven't. Personally, these reunion moments have been enlightening and depressing in the same moment. It's a time for wishing I did more over 20 years, but also a time for renewing old friendships that should have never ended in the first place. Everyone has changed; time and life experience does that to everyone, but revisiting the days of youth, even for a moment, can be invigorating itself. Never be afraid to reach out and find that old friend. It's rewarding in the end.

A few final notes. I still hate the Vonage commercials, but they've finally tapered off, and there's even a new one floating around which is far less irritating and obsessive. Secondly, this is my 99th post! Next one is the biggie! I've been working on it at times, and all I can say is that it will have some highlights from my better postings, and basically celebrate the achievement. I'm hoping to get that done in a couple weeks (or less). Thirdly, congratulations to the Cubs! Very happy they are playing well again. See you at number 100! Maybe I'll rope in some special guests!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The 2008 Olympics Part Two

I've written my initial thoughts about the Olympic Games in the previous essay, and I had a bit more to say. Thus, here comes part two. Sure, there are more political meanderings (and I hate politics), but there are always exceptions.

I mentioned before that I didn't really pay much attention to the opening or closing ceremonies. Everyone else seemed to watch them, and all can draw their own conclusions. I'll just say that it was a job well done, despite the penalties potentially incurred upon any Chinese citizens that didn't cooperate. Hats off to those that volunteered, perhaps under penalty of death. Sure, it was nice to see that, as a Led Zeppelin fan, Jimmy Page played "Whole Lotta Love" in representing the upcoming London Games of 2012. A nice gesture, but couldn't the rest of the surviving members of the band have taken the time to participate with Page in this worldwide ceremonial moment?

That said, it was amusing to hear that the Chinese government found some type of way to magically clear all of their earth-killing pollution haze in anticipation of the Games to come. China was every bit of that unflappable kingdom that, in its view, could do no wrong, and still decided to clean up the air and act as a warm host for the two weeks of propaganda to come. Their efforts to westernize were admirable. My dad even noticed an interesting thing, in that the Chinese even wore uniforms, in many events, with the English word "China" emblazoned upon it. Quite amusing, since the Chinese language doesn't use letters, period, just a mess of lines and symbols. It showed that China is finally getting it; despite not being a continent, they are truly the definition of the "dark continent", well behind the times, and desperate to catch up to the rest of the dreaded "western" world. The country is barely catching up to the world of the internet, and even that (pun intended) "connection" has been slow in its expansion. They've resisted vehemently to join the rest of the world, but finally its big cities show signs of westernization. Hopefully these Olympics will show that dreaded government, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Sure, it's convenient for the rest of us lazy Americans to know that everyone on the planet will need to adopt some forms of English, but that's simply based on rules of the commercial majority. They may have the most populous country on the planet, but us English speakers control the commerce with which the Chinese people ultimately need to survive. The subplanet that is China has politically painted itself into a corner, and it's up to that same stubborn entity to join the rest of the globe and adopt English as a language and participate in westernized idealism. China put their Olympic pawns out there, and they were affable pawns. People amongst the Chinese teams hugged teammates, hugged the American opponents (in the case of the culmination of the gymnastic events) and acted, well, human. Chinese people seemed friendly but guarded; it's up to their overlords to release the grip on the remaining elements of humanism that have kept them so contained and distanced for centuries.

I watched the competitions, most notably swimming and gymnastics. Having already commented on the swimming achievements, I will say that despite my normal ambivalence toward gymnastics in general, I was quite excited by the USA's successes as a team and their appropriate individual efforts. Sure - in the swimming world, Michael Phelps, as I mentioned, performed well, as did Jason Lezak during important four person relay events. Nevertheless, I was particularly impressed with Nastia Luikin from the gymnastics team. Her father was an Olympic medalist for Russia, and not unlike Maria Sherapova, she eventually was raised in the United States and groomed to succeed. While one of the darlings of the Olympics, she seemed to lack the cutesy cuddliness that Mary Lou Retton belched during the 1984 Summer Games. Nastia is a great gymnast and invariably poised to be the next Maxim cover, but she maintained that typical Russian-born coldness that all too many expatriated athletes brought to our soil. As a result, many of the network interview shows tried to crown gymnast Shawn Johnson as America's next darling, but I doubt it will stick. Conan O'Brien's show has already used her in a comedy bit, comparing her to a picture of "Howdy Doody". Very cruel and undeserved, she didn't ask for that level of publicity; she merely wanted to perform well. That said, I suppose Nastia is the "cutie" and Shawn is the "doody". Where's the justice? Shawn Johnson was a great competitor, and seemingly a sweet person, so leave her alone. She's just a kid.

During several of the team competitions, especially with gymnastics, I noticed another depressing use of a human being by the Chinese empire. Wherever the various gymnastics teams' "benches" were for sitting and warming up, a Chinese girl had to hold a sign up designating the particular country's name. Couldn't they have used a metal pole for this purpose? I understand that there are 1.3 billion people over there, but are humans cheaper than poles? (Insert your favorite ethnic joke here). Bad jokes aside, they seemed forced to hold up this sign for the duration of the events. Inasmuch that team gymnastics took hours to complete, I truly felt sorry for the poor (perhaps literally) girls that had to hold various team's signs up throughout the duration of the events.

Continuing with the review of the gymnastics competitions, may I humbly ask why Bella Karolyi was asked to sit in with the always arrogant Bob Costas during the aforementioned gymnastics events? All Karolyi did was utter unintelligible aphorisms, accuse the Chinese of using underaged competitors, and abjectly root for whomever was up next in the competition. While I appreciate his history as a gymnastics coach, his emotional comments clearly never passed the "I shouldn't say that" filter. He's a typically creepy guy with former coaching achievements, and that's it - he was never fit to be a commentator. What little that could be discerned from his broken English was largely jingoistic and embittered. It must explain why his wife was out there doing the actual coaching, rather than himself. Sure, he's retired. Uh huh. I further enjoyed his passive thoughts about the usually prominent Romanian team, since Romania was his country of origin.

Another sham event - the "Beach Volleyball" competition - was so horribly westernized, it showed that the Chinese government was simply trying too hard. During breaks in the action, music was blaring from the P.A. system blaring sadly outdated "western" rock music. I heard 80s songs by Europe, AC/DC, et al. For some reason, this "event" needed some pathetic rock and roll attitude to it, and it was so artificial, I couldn't stand keeping my T.V.'s volume up any further. With both indoor and outdoor volleyball competitions, the Cuban teams kept coming up. Could they have been any darker skinned? Those Cubans looked peculiarly African to me. Sheesh.

I was incredibly amused when Bob Costas, back in the studio over there, casually mentioned that his guest for the current segment was this guy named George Bush. Since Bush Jr. is an idiot anyway, the lack of build-up for the supposedly "casual" interview was all the more gratifying. So George Jr. sat in, with his relaxed persona, and fielded questions from the typically verbose Costas. My favorite moment came along when Costas preceded a question with "given all the problems in the United States right now...". It was amusingly fielded by Bush, responding with "Well, Bob, I don't think there are any problems in the United States right now." Economic crisis? Gas prices? Hello? A sad, pathetic answer in front of millions of people. Hell, he has no reason to say the right things any more (when did he start?), being months away from relinquishing his post, but he was an incredible dullard in the "casual interview" role, despite passive attempts by Costas to avert attention from the comedy of his guest.

In the end, the Olympics allowed a nice attempt by China to show their human side. They did a good job, overall, and this dark region of the earth showed that brightness can still exist. I loved the achievements of our country's best athletes. Several people have asked me if I wanted Chicago (finalist) to earn the rights to hosting the 2016 Games. Yes, it's my home, and it would be two weeks of insanity during the fortnight. Technically, yes, I do want Chicago to win the bid. A significant competitor to this bid is Madrid. Why go back to Spain? The Summer Games were just recently in Barcelona (1992), and Chicago deserves the chance. The city has hosted various expositions before, granted they were over a century ago, but it's about time. Regardless of Los Angeles and Atlanta's games of 1984 and 1996 respectively, I'd love to see the world turn its attention toward a city like Chicago. It would be all too amusing to see the Rowing event take place on the Chicago River; first team whose boat doesn't dissolve is the big winner. Seriously, it's a nice city to host the Games, and I'll be far too old to care anyway. Anything but Madrid. Those dusty Spaniards stay up too late anyway.

One more article until #100! The 99th article might be just another essay, but that 100th - what will it be? Stay tuned. Thanks for the support.