Friday, December 08, 2006

Bond Returns along with Meddling Methodist

Greetings gentle readers, those who have continued glancing at this blog only to find that nothing has been updated in over a month. And this following a promise for more prolific blogging. Perhaps I'll shove that to the New Year (resolutions are always kept, right? Just like my four-year promise to get back into running).

Anyway, last night my wife and I enjoyed the new and improved James Bond soon-to-be-classic Casino Royale. Having devoted large chunks of my life to watching Bond (including many a bad one in the latter years, the latter years being, oh, 1986 on), I was exciting at the prospect of Daniel Craig as the new 007. Now I wouldn't consider myself a fanatic, but more of a traditionalist in the sense that the recent years' reliance on gadgetry and over-the-top stunts without the sense of humor really didn't appeal to my own inner-Bondness. I suppose I wanted a character-driven Bond in the Connery mold, along with a Goldfinger like villian. Well, one out of two ain't bad, and the one that mattered for this film, Bond, was very good.

As a coming out party/series re-boot, CR delivered the goods. Craig as Bond is a bit rough around the edges, still learning the ropes, taking risks beyond his capabilities. And that is a good thing. The plot, of course, is ridiculous, involving high stakes poker and unbelievable hands (why can't movies ever show the guy winning with just a pair of threes?), as well as a somewhat dull terrorist-financier who weeps blood, but that isn't the point. The point is an intro to the New Bond, and I for one am excited about the prospects. And when Craig as Bond delivers his signature intro, the transformation is complete

One final note. I recognize that these films stretch the boundaries of believabilty, but this one had the most unbelievable moment I have ever encountered. In the Bahamas, the suave and sophisticated MI6 agent opts for a Ford Sedan. My wife and I could only laugh at the peposterousness of it all.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Greeting Fellow Wilco Gazers! Part 2: Resolution in the House of Wilco

I’ve spent most of my life avoiding these types of situations. Once in college I was punched over a girl. And the punch was kinda wimpy and the girl turned out not to be really worth all the fuss. However, on this night it became apparent that the possibility of fight no. 2 would commence in the midst of a strange turn of events. Boston Rob basically dared me to throw the first punch. Having assessed that he was taller, younger, and in much better shape than myself I doubt if any punch from me would’ve helped the situation. Also, the absurdity of the ordeal wasn’t worth taking it so seriously as to succumb to a violent resolution. Luckily, the doors opened, and as expected, Boston Rob and Short Round made it to the front row (as did we). Dude apologized again and again, not knowing when, as my father would say, to quit while ahead.

So, the show was off to a bad start, threatening to impact our enjoyment. The opening act sang of politics and cats but not alleviating the bad taste in our mouths. Could Wilco save us? The minutes passed as the roadies set the stage. Idle chatter grew louder and louder as the club filled to maximum capacity. The lights dimmed, the crowd cheered, and the sounds of Debussy filled the room. Debussy you ask? From the depths of childhood memory this little ditty re-emerged in an unexpected place. This familiar tune from childhood preceded Wilco’s appearance. It was the legendary opening theme for the Star Gazer (formerly known as the Star Huster, check out the FAQ for why the name was changed). I was hoping the band was going to glide out on a moonbeam and tell us about the stars. But they were, in a sense, to use a tired cliche mixed with bad writing, the stars. With the moment any bad mood was lifted and Wilco came out and took control for two hours, confirming again their status as a GREAT BAND.

In the end, no punches were thrown, by myself or that other Jeff onstage. The House of Wilco is a safe haven to enjoy the transcendent power of music. The evening will forever be etched in my consciousness.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Greetings Fellow Wilco-Gazers! Part I: Confrontation

Last Thursday I enjoyed a pleasant evening of standing and listening to the joyous noise that is Wilco at the 9:30 Club. Friends arrived early to stake their place in line (my wife being the first one there—at 12:30), and we gawked at the usual suspects who frequent these shows. Things were pleasant by the time I arrived by five to complete the quartet of friends clamoring to be in the front. (A fifth showed up perfectly content with hanging out by the bar.)

A few minutes prior to the doors opening a 6’4” lad clad in a Boston RedSox hat strolled up and began chatting with my wife. Most fans at a Wilco show are a gentle lot so this sight was not out of the ordinary. I was only half paying attention when the conversation turned a little heated. Boston Rob began pointing at us, angry that we had jumped ahead, thus depriving his 5’2” girlfriend a chance to see her favorite band in the front row. Somehow we had allowed at least 20 people to jump ahead in the line in a blatant effort to disrupt his and her viewing and listening pleasure. And for him, the main culprit was my wife.

Line jumping is a serious accusation, often-times resulting in ejection from amusement parks. Waiting in line at clubs prior to shows has its own set of rules, I believe, which require examination. One or two people arrive early to claim a spot in line. In my wife’s case she showed up nearly seven hours early to claim the top spot. She has the right to hold that spot for one other person prior to the doors opening. Person #2 showed up by around 3, over four hours before the doors opening. By this time another small group had formed. Our group informed this group that a couple more people would be arriving later. So things seemed to be ok. Two people were holding spots for two other people, maintaining the proper ratio. We were all operating in good faith and trust.

Or so we thought. Boston Rob didn’t see that. For him, we had broken that trust. The fifth person of our group who had no intention of joining us up front told BR to chill and not to worry. Then BR was demanding a place at the front of the line, saying that we had all shown up late. Things were getting a little surreal. In an attempt to diffuse the situation I even said fine, move up. But the guy still was not satisfied, stating that if he and his girlfriend didn’t have a spot up front, then he’d have a “problem” with us. A “problem?” This understandably kinda set my wife off a bit. Her personal space was being invaded by now (though he pointed out that he was at least two feet away.) She had been there since 12:30 and having a good time, looking forward to seeing her favorite band and this bloak was wreaking havoc on a peaceful evening. But, instead of yelling at dude, my wife stared at him, to which he asked something like “Why are you just standing there stonefaced?” in a very rude manner.

Normally I too am a gentle soul who operates to some degree under the mantra of live and let live. I am not a confrontational person, preferring the path of peace to resolve disputes. We had been reasonable with this guy. But then he called my wife “stonefaced.” Now, that is not so much an insult as it is an affront to respectful behavior. BR had chosen a path of confrontation when it wasn’t necessary. To some degree he dared us to create a “problem” for his girlfriend. He could have played the sympathy card because he had been there for a long time. But, since he chose a different way, I came to the defense of the one I loved….

To be continued…

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Wilco Tonight and Other Stuff

Dear Fan(s):

Tonight is a Wilco night at 9:30 Club, which will be blogged about, hopefully, tomorrow.

Also, in the near future I'll be blogging about politics, The Departed, with some religion thrown in. So Stay Tuned!

For now, check this awesome YouTube out. It's one of the greatest covers of a great song ever, and also further proof that YouTube is the best thing on the internet (don't screw it up, Google).

Peace Out!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Apocalypse When? (Updated 10/10)

In Wichita, the Rolling Stones came and went without ringing in the Apocalypse. I think a more sure sign would be, say, the Tigers winning the World Series (especially after last night's not-so-stellar performance). Just as well. According to this article, we Americans are ill-prepared for the cataclysmic event, AKA the Second Coming, anyway. But, it got me to thinking, which band(s) would I want to ride out the Apocalypse with? (And since the dead will be raised, the previously deceased are now options.) If there is anyone still reading this blog, please let me know your thoughts. I’ll post mine later.

Additional Info:

After thoughtful consideration, here are the five bands I'd like to hear live.

1. The Beatles
2. Beck
3. Bob Dylan
4. Uncle Tupelo
5. Neil Young

And here are five albums, always subject to change depending on time and mood (should probably make this ten albums).

1. Wilco Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
2. Sonic Youth Daydream Nation
3. Bruce Springsteen Nebraska
4. Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced?
5. Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sophie's Trifecta

After church on Sunday my wife and I enjoyed an afternoon at the Kennedy Center watching opera, courtesy of some tickets we received for petsitting a cute little dog named Roxie. The opera we saw was Nicholas Maw’s adaptation of William Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice.

With this viewing I hit an artistic trifecta, having in the past six months read the novel (courtesy of a 25¢ purchase at a thrift store in Williamsburg, VA by fellow blogger I Love Taco Bell) and seen the film version. If I had the time or the inclination (or was enrolled in some expensive graduate film school), I believe I could come up with an esoteric thesis for dissecting the material and comparing/contrasting the various artistic modes used to tell the thoroughly depressing material in three different mediums, and whether those mediums enhance or detract from the story itself (as well as shed new light on the nightmare and evil of the Holocaust). But who has time for that?

Obviously all three have their strengths and weaknesses. As source material for the film and opera, the novel provides a wonderful framework to work from. Director Alan J. Pakula does a very faithful adaptation of Styron, and Maw does a faithful adaptation of Pakula and Styron. Each version is tragic without resorting to false notes or manufactured emotions. The novel and film effectively use realism to get the story across. The opera (at least this version of it), with its sparse set and use of many, many photographs dangling from the rafters, creates a dream-like vision of memory and loss. Of course some of the audience members complained, wanting more realistic sets (perhaps reflecting their fondness for the film) and others debated the omission of some details from the original story (I suppose wanting more detail regarding the character Stingo's various sexual mishaps) as well as the significance of the title, “what exactly was Sophie’s Choice?”. Those complaints of course were trivial to the visceral appeal.

Spoiler Alert!!!

The opera ends with the narrator asking “Where was God at Auschwitz?” a classic theological questioning dealing with, among other things, theodicy and suffering, to which the narrator retorts, in some ways as the voice of God, “Where was Man?” The layered complexity of such questions only adds to the overall power and impact of all versions of Sophie’s Choice.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Discovering something worth writing about

Ok, ok, ok. I know I had previously stated that I will attempt to blog twice a week. Of course that hasn't quite panned out, but that is still my intent. I've got to keep my fans happy!!! Also, a component of the mission statement of this blog was not to post too much about those issues that have a tendency to raise the ire of a variety of people. Well, for today I'm letting that slip a little, without apology. I mean I am supposed to be a Meddling Methodist, aren't I?

The past couple of days I have had the opportunity to sit and listen to Donald Dayton, a religious scholar who has refused categorization as well as defy the status quo, as any good Christian should. Thirty years ago he published a little book that still resonates with many across the broad spectrum of American religious identity. His Discovering an Evangelical Heritage is a seminal work that provides refreshing insight into the true nature of the roots of, I suppose, the uniqueness of American Christian culture. It overturns current assumptions about the formation of the "mainline" and "evangelical" protestant branches in American history. And it seeks to move beyond the current false dichotomy perceived to be the main cause of division within those two traditions. In other words, most of what we think we know is wrong and lest we take an honest look at the true nature of our history, then we will continue on a trajectory that both denies the past (thus ultimately denying the true nature of the Gospel) and will continue to divide us into the future. Let us regain what has been lost.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Reason #47 to quit my day job

Check this article out. A bartender in Hutchinson, KS gets a pretty nice tip. Gotta love those Kansans. What I find particularly amazing is the fact she's been at Applebee's for eight years. Further proof that all the time and money I've spent in college has not yielded any financial benefits (not that that's a bad thing.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Rove-in Around D.C.

D.C. is a place where those with the keys to power can brush up with those destined to stay on the margins. Chance encounters between the governmental elites and the majority of non-entities forced to cling to singular hopes and pipedreams intersect, sometimes with glorious results, most of the time with narry a ripple in the cosmic fabric binding the world together. So it was this past weekend when my wife and I enjoyed a quiet Italian dinner in NW D.C. I have no illusions regarding my place in this democracy. I vote as often as I can when I can in a city that has very few voting rights. But I do have a variety of eating establishments to choose from, and this night we ventured to a little family venue that serves very good spaghetti.

As we left the restaurant in the middle of a rainstorm, the remnants of Ernesto creeping up the Atlantic Coast, I noticed a man in a raincoat approaching us. The spark of recognition ignited in my brain as he drew closer and my mind raced through the millions of cells searching for a name to match the face. The brain opened the celebrity file, and in doing so the rest of body stopped and stared. The man came closer and looked at me and cracked a subtle smile, as if knowing that I knew him from somewhere, perhaps on TV or in a movie. He had that knowing look of one used to being recognized. And it hit me.

My wife was not transfixed as I was, for she was thinking of other things, of places to be and things to accomplish, her mind not cluttered with the mundane task of celebrity sighting. Yet I was pleading with her, telepathically, to look over, to see this giant of American culture, this person that both she and I have admonished in mixed company and questioned his integrity as a human. Yet she would not, could not.

Thinking back there are things I wish I could of said at that moment. Thousands of times I have rehearsed with me and my friends arguments to make regarding the political movements of this country. Those arguments involve disagreeing with the strategies and public persona of this one who now was walking past me into the restaurant. It donned on me that yes, he needs to eat and enjoy the food just like us. He has friends somewhere to enjoy a glass of wine with, to talk about sports and weather and other fun items. So I let him pass me by to enjoy his dinner without the distraction of political engagement. This person that I have built up in my mind as the root cause for all America's ills (an exaggeration to be sure but one reflective of our political culture in general, perhaps pointing to its sorry state for all involved), simply wants to be. My chance encounter with the corridors of power will not even appear on any radar screen as having any effect on the shifting tides of culture, political or otherwise. Yet I did noticed that Karl Rove in person has appeared to have lost some weight. While engaging in a variety of wars, intellectual, physical, sociological, etc., Rove, aka Bush's Brain, aka numerous expletives, and aka numerous affirmations, has time to exercise. Now if only I could do the same.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Lawrence of Arabia

OK, I admit it. This particular post is filler. In an effort to maintain a sense of rhythm I'm trying to blog at least twice a week. Some efforts maybe total phone-ins, others triumphs of profundity and wit. I'll let you, gentle and precious readers decide. This past weekend was my birthday. To celebrate, my wife and I enjoyed the four hour epic Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen. That's right, campers. A four hour movie, which takes place mainly in the desert, has no female speaking roles, was filmed without any big movie stars, whose lead actor was actually much taller than the real person, and features some pretty bad make-up, not to mention some pretty subtle (and not-so-subtle) homoerotic undertones. Could this film be made today? I'm trying to imagine the studio pitch: One man, many deserts, and many more camels. Perhaps with a ton a cash and lots of CGI camels and a love story thrown in the mix (maybe a love triangle with Lawrence caught in the middle as he treks across the Sinai) someone would give it the greenlight.

Fortunately it was made back in the early early sixties, prior to the Beatles landing in America and JFK meeting his maker in Dallas. It was a time when a grand cinematic gesture could be carried off and appreciated by a mass audience. And Lawrence is one such grand gesture which sought to create a particular mood or feeling and sustain it for as long as possible. It's as if the filmmakers simply wanted to show how a tiny speck in the desert can grow into a man doing battle against the extremes of nature and the sun and somehow survive to see another day. If you want to know the true life of the odd english soldier T.E. Lawrence, check out a history book. If you want to experience true movie transcendence, run, don't walk, to see Lawrence of Arabia.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Notes from the underground arcade...

Great title, eh? It's the name of a short story I wrote for Creative Writing class in high school. For some reason I'm thinking of it now. Perhaps its because I saw a great movie last Friday with friends and my wife in celebration of our birthdays. I'm telling you now, drop what you are doing and go see Little Miss Sunshine. It's always a pleasure to see a movie that is not only entertaining, but also well written. And that got me to thinking about some of the C-rap that I've written over the near 32 years of my existence. This particular tale, Notes From the Underground Arcade (the title should be a tip-off to its juvenile pretension, especially since I wasn't smart enough to do a riff on The Gambler, which my story was based), was the sordid tale of a young lad who was addicted to playing arcade games at Bally's in the mall. He tried to win enough tickets to get one of those silly plush animal toys to give to his true love, who of course would not love him back. The reason? She no longer existed. She was dead, killed on a trip to the amusement park with her church youth group. In typical high school fashion this isn't revealed until the very end when he goes to the cemetery to give her tombstone a doll he had to steal from the stupid arcade. Oh, and the police are chasing after him. And he has to sell pot to get the money to play the video games to win the prize. And I think I tried to suggest that if he made it to the final level of one of the games, then she would, in his mind, magically appear.

Only now the story no longer exists. Well, it does, but it resides at the Butler County dump, begging to be discovered by a down-on-his-luck sanitation worker looking to get out of the confines of his small town. He could write the screenplay and direct the movie with say, Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead and, I don't know, Julia Stiles as the dead woman, and have it shown at Sundance and blam-o, it's a hit. Or maybe not.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

That's Mr. Baron to you.

So today while watching Jeopardy! reruns during lunch there included a category concerning Barons. As a result of our viewing, my wife and decided we wanted to become a baron/baroness. Though we really don't know how people become barons or really care (for a brief rundown, check out the always reliable and trustworthy wikipedia article here), we just thought it would be fun to correct people when they address us as Mr. and Mrs. "I'm sorry, but we prefer the formal and more correct Baron and Baroness when introducing us." Or, "That's Baron Methodist, not Mr. Methodist." I'd also like to throw in a "van" or "von" preceding our last name for effect.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Burger King and Herb

As a consumer who belongs to a heavily targeted marketing demographic, I feel that every commercial that airs in primetime is directed, most of the time, at me. Luckily my counter-cultural intuitiveness shields me and my wallet from the most vile and ruthless attempts of coercion through multi-media saturation. My immunity stems ultimately from a lack of funds but on a deeper level I feel my organic firewall allows for the type of consumer freedom greatly feared on wall-street. However, that does not mean I don't enjoy a good commercial. For instance, though I rarely eat here, I do enjoy the recent Burger King commercials. This particular ad campaign has involved witty writing and good pop-cultural framework to be effective. I particularly enjoy the one commercial involving old school NASCAR and a chicken on a pole. I wonder how much money they have spent over the last couple of years?

As I ponder this I am reminded of one of the biggest ad disasters of all-time. I was but a young boy then, but remember some of the hype and big letdown with this particular one involving a nerd named Herb:

As Karl Mamer writes at, let this be a lesson to all who dare try to crush our souls with bad ads:

Where's Herb?

One of Burger King's biggest and least successful ad campaigns was launched in 1985. For weeks via in-store ads, billboards, and television commercials, it teased its customers with the enigmatic "Where's Herb?" slogan. Eventually it clued its customers in to be on the look out for someone named Herb. If you spotted Herb, you would win $5,000. Alas, Burger King failed to tell its customers what Herb actually looked like. That was the other part of the gimmick, see. Keep 'em guessing. Create "buzz" by having people debate each other what Herb actually looks like.

None of that happened.

The net effect of asking its customers to find Herb -- but not telling anyone what Herb looked like -- was that Burger King caused its own customers to harass each other in its stores.

Mercifully for those who liked to enjoy their fast food in peace, Burger King finally revealed on Superbowl night Herb to be this geeky looking fellow in a too-tight, loud suit.

By this time, no one really cared.

Lost on the vast majority of fast food consumers was the message that Herb had never actually tried a Whopper, hence he was a geek, hence you were a geek too if you've not actually bit into one of Burger King's moist, juicy flame-broiled patties.

It was too much of a leap in logic for most burger consumers to grasp. Since the ads were telling customers that Herb was spending all his time in Burger Kings, what the
!@#$ was he doing there if he wasn't eating burgers? Most assumed Burger King was trying to tell us Whoppers are the burger of choice by geeks everywhere.

Burger King blew $40 million on an ad campaign that only managed to drive off customers. The burger company's sales plummeted during the campaign. Advertising Age magazine labeled the "Where's Herb?" campaign the "most elaborate advertising flop of the decade". Other advertising insiders have more charitably called it "simply one of the greatest fiascoes in the history of advertising."

-- Karl Mamer

Also, check out this YouTube.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Airport 2006 pt II


The build up is generally better than the payoff, and well, quite frankly, in the spirit of inferior sequels I'll simply state that yes, we did get put on another plane and landed safely in DC a little before midnight. I generally consider it a success if we can land before the next day. This was no exception. That's it. I mean, I just don't have the energy to try to present a wide story arc that is both fresh and funny detailing our miss adventures in the airport as we explored other terminals, sampled some fine airport cuisine, drank overpriced beer, read trashy magazines, people watched, listened to our i-pods, finally board the plane only to sit on the runway for 45 more minutes because of a log jam of airplanes, panic about our luggage, pay too much for taxi fare and finally roll into our own bed and sleep, only to forget to turn off our cell phone alarms that were set way too early. Compelling reading this is not. Yet I continue to write on, to stretch the boundaries of boredom on my eternal quest....

Gentle readers, thank you for your patience.

Oh, and we got the free tickets.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Airport 2006

After a long, hot, yet ultimately rewarding)journey to Kansas, we were ready to get back to our little apartment and our little bed where we could recover. Recovery time is always necessary following any sort of adventure, and this was no exception. We got up early to head to that most daunting of places, the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. Ok, not so daunting. It is a charmingly simple place where the terminal options are basically Left or Right. Through the foggy haze of the early morning we were able to check our bags and board the plane to Atlanta with no incident.

Flying Airtran in and out of Wichita means making a trip to its hub at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, an airport that is a little bigger than Mid-Continent, having been designed to accommodate the 2006 Summer Olympics. Chances are fairly good that one will have to leap across terminals to make near-impossible connections. Fortunately we had plenty of time before our flight to Washington.

One of the charms of Hartsfield is its constant state of repair. For the past several years I have traveled through the ATL to get to Wichita and the Airtran terminals seem to be in a constant state of dismantle-ness. Wires dominate the ceiling. The floor is a series of torn carpet, exposed concrete, and plywood coverings. Nice. That, coupled with the controlled chaos of people rushing to their gates, arguing with customer reps (heard one fellow walk away from the counter and yell “F**K” to no one in particular. Classy. Didn’t you ever learn about your ‘inside voice’?), makes for a great time. Fortunately we didn’t have to long await in that purgatory of air travel.

Or did we? While sitting in our gate in those not-quite-retro-yet uncomfortable-chairs a rep announced that the flight was overbooked. Now, at this point I could go on and on regarding the logistical nuances of why airlines overbook but frankly that would be a diversion, a wrong turn into mundanity that would serve to only bog down this already tedious blog. Needless to say we were offered the opportunity of 2 round trip tickets per person who was willing to wait seven hours for the next flight to DC if they would generously give up their seat. The rep needed 7 volunteers. After much discussion my wife and I decided to take the plunge. Free tickets certainly would override any minor inconvenience of having to wait, right? So we volunteered. The rep explained that when the plane began to board, don’t go on. They’d then call the names of those people who didn’t get bumped, and then they would call those who did.

So people boarded and we sat. Row after row of weary travelers, happy that they were not delayed, looking forward to getting home. And they called out those on the list to board, except us. And they shut the door, indicating that no one else was allowed on the plane. And the minutes ticked away. The plane rolled. The reps ran away.

So there we were, sans the free tickets and filled with minor panic.

To be continued…

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The End is Near...Oct. 2 to be precise!!!

Under normal circumstances I would simply laugh and scoff at those who proclaim that we are now living in the End Times. As a professing Christian I feel I do have an eschatological worldview (that's a big word we learn in seminary having to do with, of course, the End Times) but am very dismissive of those preachers who scour the scriptures and examine current world events for clues to the impending Apocalypse and the Return of Christ. Until now. My reasons? Could it be the worsening conflict between Israel and Lebanon? The disaster that is Iraq? The growing Iranian tensions? The dynamic geo-political relations in all of Asia, with the potent threat of nuclear annhilation coming from China, India, Pakistan, or North Korea? While those provide interesting fodder for the Left Behind folk, my real reasoning for my new-found belief in our living on the cusp of Revelation is the Rolling Stones are coming to Wichita! What further proof do I (and you) need?

The Genius of Tex (and YouTube)

For those who haven't experienced all that the internet has to offer, here is one of its greatest resources: YouTube. While wasting some precious work time I discovered on this most glorious of sites the works of one of the greatest cartoonists of all time, Tex Avery. One of my particular favorites is the Car of Tomorrow. I hope your computer has the capability to enjoy this cartoon. I need to warn you, there are some quaint gender stereotypes and a few unfortunate overt stereotypes that gives insight into the mainstream mindset of the 1950s (I'll let the sociologists deal with that for now).

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

DMV: A Success Story

One's life can be traced as a series of small victories against overwhelming odds. At times it seems the human condition is pre-disposed to structuring it's own society in ways which serve to de-value and de-moralize attempts to break free from the bonds of those very constructs that hinder our full potential. Yet breakthroughs do occur and life reveals itself to be capable of maintaining hope and promise in spite of the apparent bleakness. Some experience those breakthroughs as evidence of a just and merciful God, others as simply luck (I fall firmly in the former category yet do acknowledge the role of chance in our lives).

As has been previously posted I have been undergoing a journey of sorts. Maybe not on the same level as, say, Ulysses or Frodo, but one which illustrates the elation of triumphs great and small. My return trip to the DC DMV yielded the desired result and I got my driver's license. I had all the necessary paperwork (sidenote: I did not need to have a police report documenting the saga of my lost license. This time through the line nobody asked for it. Though part of me wants to lash out at the system that would send me on a wild goose chase I was too grateful to care. Perhaps that is one way they pacify you.) My visit lasted an hour and I left, new license in hand (fortunately with the same photo of a more fitter me). I may have even hummed "Ode to Joy" as I walked back to the Metro.

So, I am happy to report that I have experienced a small victory that should offer hope to anyone needing to get anything from the DMV. Perhaps a whole devotional could be devoted to those DMV triumphs. It could be shelved next to Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.


Monday, July 24, 2006

DMV, part VII

I know everyone has been on the edge of his or her seat since Friday's post. Well, sorry to keep you on edge. I made it down Saturday only to be told that I was, in fact, missing a crucial document that of course was not mentioned on the web site. I got the document but did not return that day. I also found out something else that was crucial, which is readily available on the website. On Monday's the DMV does not provide driver license services (but they do schedule hearings in case you've had it revoked). Fortunately I went the extra mile and instead of finding this out on-line I made the trek down to the DMV early this Monday morning to make sure they weren't open. BTW, the line is also much shorter on Mondays.

Buenos Dias!!!


Friday, July 21, 2006


The DMV is often the source of humor and ridicule regarding its over-bearing bureaucracy and lack of expediency. We've all had our far share of silly moments when getting new car tags or a driver's licence. Old Communist Russia, when criticized about its long lines just to get toilet paper probably shrugged it off by stating "look at those long lines at the DMV!" DMV incidents could be (and probably is) an entire blog unto itself. So, bearing that in mind, I just wanted to add another in a long list of complaints/anecdotes that I hope someone is keeping track of and can turn into a best-seller (or maybe a folk album? Sufjan?).

Nonetheless, I will add yet another tale of misery and woe concerning one's plight to that black hole of efficiency. Having recently lost/misplaced my driver's license I obviously needed to attain a new one. Because of my youthful good looks, I obviously needed proper ID in order to maintain my legality, specifically if I wanted to enjoy a pleasant drink (or even vote, or even drive). After navigating online to see if I could re-order one on the not so user-friendly local government website, I discovered that I needed my driver license number to re-order one. Apparently I should have that number committed to memory (given our present age when it is no longer legal in the District to use your SSN as you DL number, which is just as well. I'm not too concerned about someone stealing my identity with my lost license, though when the CC bills with the trip to Maui start pouring in...). Without that info I would have to take the sojourn downtown.

I got up early in the hopes of getting closer to the front of the line. However, I forgot to take into account that no matter how early you get up, someone else is getting up earlier, in this case about 4o people. And there we stood in front of the deteriorating 301 building waiting for them to open the doors. The time at this point was 7:50, so I had at least 25 minutes. Luckily I had a book. Always bring a book/paper/magazine to the DMV (as well as make absolutely sure you have every piece of documentation necessary or you will be sent home in shame). Finally the doors opened and a uniformed guard came out and explained the ground rules, which contained some very valuable rules, the most important one being if you come to the DMV early and have to wait in line, do not bring a bag. Let me repeat, do not bring a bag/sack/purse of any sort. Why is this detail important? Because you get to pass through the significantly shorter line for the metal detector. My position moved up at least 20 places because of this. (Another important rule, do not bring anything that may resemble a weapon, including key chains from New Mexico given as a present from your mother, which is a whole other story for a different day.)

Unfortunately my moment of triumph lasted all of two minutes. A little lady came out into the hall and said that the mainframe was down and so they couldn't process anything. If only I had a picture of the faces who had chosen this very day to make their trek to the DMV. They were full of sadness and supressed anger. Certainly they couldn't fault the messenger but needed to lash out against something. At that moment I chose to silently chide the mayor, knowing that it was pointless, given that he isn't even running for re-election. I imagined the mayor as Sisyphus having to continually go through the DMV line only to be rejected because of a missing document or downed computer. I was reminded of a line from Tender Mercies spoken by Max, "I don't trust happiness." The DMV has that effect. I left, needing to get to work where at least I know my mainframe will be operating. The sad thing is this is the second time in a row this has happened to me at the DMV. Hopefully when I go back tomorrow the third time will be the charm.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Kansas...The Land of Ah's

Prolific singer-songwriter and 50-state balladeer Sufjan Stevens has just released his follow-up to the great Illinois titled The Avalanche, consisting of outtakes and extras from the Land of Lincoln. Though I am excited by the prospect of listening to his latest effort, this release begs the question "Why not devote your creative energy to Kansas?" An album about The Sunflower State (or Jayhawker State) would be a nice addition to his "50 States" project. I even have a title for him, courtesy of a late eighties initiative to promote the state (tough to do when you're sandwiched between Missouri and Colorado), which simultaneously pokes fun of and embraces it's Wizard of Oz imagery. Who wouldn't buy an album titled "Kansas...The Land of Ah's"? The promotion even created controversy when the state of Connecticut tried to rip off the slogan. Typical of the East Coast to try to impose it's supposed superiority over anything west of Appalachia. Who knew that state tourism boards could be so cutthroat? But, I digress.

The point is Kansas would provide a far superior backdrop for Sufjan's music to anything else he's done. I have a few suggestions that could help ease the burden of research and produce voluminous material for the album. For instance, John Brown and Ossawatomie. Everyone's favorite abolitionist created quite a stir on the prairie when he decided to take the law into his own hands and punish those mean pro-slavery ruffians living on the wrong side of the Kansas border. Massacre and mayhem always provide good fodder. Other interesting characters include temperance queen and axe-wielder Carrie Nation. Or perhaps a sad ballad about Amelia Earhart and her doomed flight. I mean, there are dozens and dozens of Kansans to sing about. But please, no songs about BTK. Sufjan already explored that territory on Illinois with John Wayne Gacy.

Plenty of cities to choose from, too. Imagine riding along with windows down, a summer breeze blowing through the Flint Hills to the tune of Wichita, Air Capital of the World!!! Or maybe an homage to the State Capital. Or maybe a little ditty about my hometown, Augusta. There are plenty of oddities in some of these towns such as The Garden of Eden in Lucas. It's not the Taj Mahal, but does involve a husband's strange devotion to his dead wife.

In other words, the possibilities are endless. I'm barely scratching the surface. I could quite possibly spend the next several weeks writing about everything that could and should be sung about the 34th state. There are buffalo roaming and a rich Native American history, cattle drives and cowtowns, and much much more. All the elements are there to create a rich tapestry of history that values the prairie as an inspirational mecca. Sufjan should consider this an introduction to what surely would be his next masterpiece, perhaps the crowning achievement and creative pinnacle of his career. Consider this. Consider Kansas.

Friday, July 14, 2006

No hablo espanol...pero yo estudio Pop Culture

Well, last night I took a Spanish test. My wife and I are currently trudging through Conversational Spanish I. It has been quite an adventure considering my language skills are lacking plus what other language I have studied (high school German, with only a few shards still floating around in my braincells, but what shards they are!) keeps popping up and wreaking havoc. Fortunately we're auditing, so grades don't really matter. I just feel bad knowing that I'm capable of rendering a beautiful language spoken by millions and millions of people into unintelligible vowels and consonants (or at least I think that's what they sound like), and that's without attempting to roll the r's. Nothing brings out my hickness from Kansas quite like reading a Spanish text easily translatable by a four year old. Fortunately following the test the class went to a Mexican restaurant and drank some Margaritas and listened to the sweet serenade of Mariachi. I really do want to learn to speak Spanish, to move beyond the banality of Me llamo Jeff and actually have a reasonable discussion with another (en español). Hopefully this is the start of something great. In no time I will be translating the lost works of García Lorca or translating the latest García Marquez. Ok, maybe that is a bit of a stretch, but one can dream can't they?

Though Spanish has proved muy difícil we've been fortunate enough to have access to cable this week. Each night on VH-1 they've been showing the World Series of Pop Culture. Apparently several months ago there were trivia tournaments across the country that pitted teams of three against each other in a bracket format. As the title indicates, the focus is on a team's knowledge of all things catchy and kitchy, from film to music to tv and beyond. Some of the teams are really good, such as Almost Perfect Strangers and El Chupacabra, others I wonder how the hell they made it this far (which leads to the inevitable "and why the hell aren't I on there"). Each round consists of six questions. Generally 4 to 5 of the six questions are fairly basic, though that doesn't stop some of them from blowing it on a grand scale. I mean, who doesn't know that Bob Guiney was a contestant on ABC's The Bachelor? Or that one of Meryl Streep's Oscar- nominated roles was for Sophie's Choice? Come on people, if you're gonna win $250,000, while the rest of us watch with bitter resentment, there are at least a few essentials you need to know, or as my Deutch teacher called it, BMK (basic minimal knowledge). Oh well, until then I'll continue to trudge on. Maybe next season.



Monday, July 10, 2006

A Return from Beyond

Sorry folks for the brief hiatus. Things have been well, interesting, since July 4. Needless to say I am now operating at full capacity. A lot has happened in the interim, so I'm still in the process of trying to sort things out. Let me first give a "Happy Birthday" to everyone's favorite Giant Panda, Tai Shan. Check him out here. Also, my wife (of MatlockMornings) and I are currently dog sitting a little Dachshund name Fritz. We're busy people.

But, what is it I wish to pontificate upon at the moment, you may be anxiously asking yourself? Well, gentle reader, how about a movie review? Last Saturday, when I was not attending the Belle&Sebastian concert in Columbia, I sat down with Fritz to enjoy the Robert Duvall movie Tender Mercies. It opens with Duvall getting a beat down and waking up hung-over in a desolate Texas motel room only found in the movies. The landscape is sparse and the music is quiet C&W. Duvall plays Mac Sledge, former famous country singer seeking some sort of redemption for his past transgressions, hoping to build a future with the motel's owner, Rosa Lee and her son, aptly nicknamed Sonny. Mac also has a daughter from a previous marriage to a country star he hopes to reconnect with. In 90 minutes the film conveys how sadness and hope often converge and overlap, to the point where Mac expresses his "distrust for happiness." Those who enjoy exploring religious dimensions of film will have much to ponder here. One avenue of redemption involves church life. Another involves the need to connect with each other, through the gifts at our disposal. For Mac it is music. The promise of unconditional love is examined through the eyes of Rosa Lee and her acceptance of Mac and all his various demons. Tragedy occurs in the midst of joy and Mac ponders life's cruelty. The dialogue is as minimal as the scenery, helping to alleviate the more melodramatic elements of the film. The quietness of it amounts to a very moving and engaging film.

Another film recently viewed, this time on the big screen, was the Altman classic Nashville. Having only previously viewed it on video, to see it in a theater was a very transformative experience. There is so much going on in each frame visually and audibly that I hope to get to see it again soon to experience the parts I missed. Following a couple of days in Nashville in the mid seventies, Altman deals with a wide variety of characters, from successful singers to those destined to remain on the fringe. Some only eminate goodness, while others can only be described as unredeemable jerks. Yet all their paths converge, sometimes in a traffic jam, at a Grand Ole Opry Show or in a political rally. Those seeking a singular statement will be disappointed. Politics and Pop Culture are one and the same in Altman's view. The most significant of persons can easily be cast aside. Altman is able to present the motivations and heartache (and occassional triumph) of over a dozen people in two and half hours. This is Americana at its finest.

Has anybody else have any recent positive (or negative) movie going experiences?

Bye for now,


Monday, July 03, 2006

Danielson Continues to Rule

With the exception of a brief moment on Sunday, for the last three weeks the car has been continuously playing one CD: Danielson's Ships. This unprecedented monolopy of the airwaves in the car (with the occassional moments of NPR sprinkled in) will certainly come to an end, but much like Ken Jennings's historic run on Jeopardy!, with each passing episode in the car it appears as if we will never be able to overcome our urge to listen to the lush melodies, but we know it will happen. And when will that be? Where will be going? A quick trip to the grocery store, with just enought time to listen to one and half songs? A long road trip through the Shenandoah's? Who knows? It almost happened Sunday with a trip to pick up a pizza from Ledo's (which, btw, rules!), but the foe (in this case the new Mojave 3) was vanquished with my need to listen to "Did I Step on your trumpet." Our addiction knows no bounds. Until we hit rock bottom, Danielson remains in the cd player.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Kickin' it at Calexico

Last night, my wife and I Love Taco Bell, and myself enjoyed an evening of Calexico at 9:30 Club. After putting away a few PBRs and pretzels prior to going, we arrived just as the band was coming on. I was banished from partaking of the bar because I have misplaced my driver's license (which I'm sure will involve a lot of paperwork and a trip to the always fun DC DMV). The club put two big stamps on my hands to indicate "Access Denied." They even provided a warning (albeit gentle) of getting tossed out if I attempted any funny business at the bar. Luckily I could drink the water.

Anyway, the show, of course, was very good. Calexico played a lot from "Feast of Wire" including "Across the Wire" a staple of a good number of mix CDs I've burned for people. They even busted out a heartfelt rendition of Love's "Alone Again Or." The crowd was mostly into it. Though I could go on and on about the usual annoying hipsters and fratboys who seem only capable of talking in loud, incomplete sentences during the softer points in the set, I'm afraid I would be only preaching to the choir. However, right in front of me I did witness the re-incarnation of the Dancing Elaine (she of "full body dry heave" fame). It was quite a show!!! There are times when I wish I had that annoying picture phone!!!

However, there was some sadness. My favorite baseball player, Greg Maddux, once again lost. After an awesome start, he and his Cubs are sinking deeper and deeper into the depths of the Central Division. Pretty soon they'll be battling it out with the Pirates for last place. Let us all pray that this slide does not continue. Unless there is a big turnaround, we could be witnessing the final pitches of one of the greatest pitchers ever.

Tonight my wife and I start our first Spanish class. That should be interesting, given my own difficulties with mastering English (as you loyal reader has already discerned, no doubt). Please wish us luck!!!


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Observations of the Mundane Kind, Part I

This morning while riding the metro to work I sat next to a woman reading a rather thick looking piece of literature. In my hands was a copy of recently deceased theologian Jaroslav Pelikan's brief Whose Bible Is It? A History of the Scriptures through the Ages, a rather brief but engaging overview of how the Bible came to be. The situation I found myself in, by sitting next to this woman with a big book, thrust me into a ponderous mood regarding the navigation of Metro culture. I believe riding the metro requires a certain adherence to unspoken set of rules and manners that should be observed as strictly as possible. Here I will be writing about two. The first concerns material to be read while riding. They include newspapers, periodicals, mass market paperbacks (of any size), memos from work (on a limited basis), bestsellers (paperback or hardback), classics (preferably in paperback and published by Penguin Press) textbooks that do not involve problem solving, religious or spiritual texts (Bible, Koran, Bhagavad Gita). Non-bestselling hardbacks should be easy to manage within tight spaces, such as mine was, as well as somewhat easy reading. However, the woman sitting next to me was reading something that was very thick and cumbersome, causing distraction when she turned the pages. The size and shape of it was like a chemistry or math text, which would have required difficult problem solving, thus eliminating it from metro reading.

Having described situation number 1, that I was within my reading rights on the Metro and the woman was stretching the boundaries, I proceeded to breach a second rule. I consciously looked at what she was reading. For what seemed like two minutes (between DuPont and Farragut North) I stared at her text, scanning deliriously to try to find a title or chapter heading. Though there are times when you can "accidentally" catch sight of what a person is reading, I was blatantly violating the no look rule. But I am glad I did. The heading I saw read Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin. Now why is this so special that it should be a cause for a reflection? Remember, I was reading a book about the history of the Bible. And here was a text about evolution. The juxtaposition was such that I wished all in the car were violating the no look rule. Also, I'm from Kansas, which made the situation even more worth the effort of deep intellectual musings. The clash of cultures occuring on the Red Line this morning was the proverbial microcosmic glimpse of our broader society, demonstrating how the two could actually ride side by side without creating controversy (maybe this was a result of her not violating the no look rule). Perhaps us two could have been the punchline to a New Yorker cartoon or an editorial, who knows?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Danielson Documentary

Saturday night my wife and I strolled into Silver Spring to enjoy a screening of DANIELSON: A FAMILY MOVIE {OR, MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE HERE} (for a quick synopsis, click here) at the AFI Silverdocs Documentary Festival. The film follows the journey of Daniel Smith, musician extraordinaire from New Jersey and his rotating band, which includes family members and friends. It is a very good meditation on the intersection of faith and art, the joy of creating, and the struggle to become known and accepted by sometimes suspicious listeners. Throughout the film Daniel (known by his stage name as Brother Danielson) maintains a positive gait, and the viewer can't help but smile.

Of the myriad of topics that arise from viewing, the one I am currently most intrigued by is the spiritual dimension of creating. Brother Danielson insists that he doesn't think too much about the creative process when writing music. He allows for it to just happen, relying and trusting the Holy Spirit to produce what is intended. That trust never wavers, even when audience members are left baffled by the result. Here Brother Danielson, because of his faith, submits to a higher force, willing to forgo audience expectation in order to serve God. And the result is an interesting blend of sonic folk music and performance art not easily understood yet fully accessible. The audience member, regardless of his or her own spiritual expectation, is forced to simply experience. The words and music (and look) aren't the typical CCM faux-asthetic that manufactures emotion upon a listener. Rather it defies expectation and recognizes the complexity of the human condition and how it relates to true spiritual needs.

We currently live in a culture that values the separation of the secular and sacred. Much art is focused not on religious themes, as it was in the past, but rather on thoughts and ideas that rub against traditional notions of the sacred. We have a vibrant secular culture which too often looks at the sacred with some contempt (real and imagined). Here Brother Danielson and his band don't conceive of their music outside of their faith. Their faith is their creative force, serving God without fakiness. Of course what happens is confusion by both Christian and non-Christian. One group doesn't have the cultural framework to be moved by the sound, the other may be put-off by the apparent "self-indulgence" of it (as one of the club intelligentsia put it in the film).

Fans of Sufjan Stevens will also certainly enjoy the film. As an integral part of the band, he provides an interesting counter-balance to Daniel's vision. Sufjan's subsequent rise as a solo artist contrasts Danielson's continual struggle to breakthrough. However, both seem to stay true to their own particular vision, unwilling to compromise. And Daniel keeps smiling and creating. Also, those from Baltimore should note the scenes shot from one of the coolest venues on the planet, Ottobar!!!

Anyway, before I ramble on and on and on too long, look for it on DVD in the future. If you're a fan of strange folk music or good documentary filmmaking, check it out!!!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Those Darn Yankees

It would be easy for me to express my dismay and displeasure at the hordes of Yankee fans who showed up Friday night into the friendly confines of RFK. They have a tendency to travel in packs, screeching at the top of their lungs for all things Jeter, taunting the opposition with witty banter. It's easy to be a Yankee fan. They win, alot. But it's just as easy to be an anti-Yankee fan, to be fueled by a burning dislike for the Bronx Bombers, to always cheer for their opposition. Of course, Friday night was no exception. However, because of the thousands of Yankee fans, both genuine and faux, RFK rocked with the genuine thrill and emotion that only baseball can provide.

I was proud of the Nats fans. They held their own up through the seventh inning, continuing to shout down all attempts by Yankee Fan to dominate the cheering. And the Nationals, who hit the skids against the Rockies, had a legitimate chance of winning. Yet things, as they inevitably do, fell apart. And Yankee fan, perhaps more used to the seventh-inning inebriation than us DC fans, overcame all efforts by us to thwart their cheering attack. Despite this, as I sat high up in centerfield, in the very last row of seats with my friends, surrounded by the sounds and smells of Major League Baseball, I revelled in this passion for a game that yields much more disappointment than victory, and this Friday night was no exception. Had I only had tickets for Saturday or Sunday.

Friday, June 16, 2006

What, another blog?

Greetings fellow travellers. Welcome to the Meddling Methodist, where levity rules and irreverence prevails. For those interested in heady matters, theological disputes, the state of world affairs, etc., I invite you to navigate the billion other blogs readily available (though from time to time I may offer my own ill-formed and half-baked thoughts). For insight into the pscyhe of one who has gone through seminary, is yet to be ordained, values hospitality and grace, likes to have fun, lives in the political epicenter of the known universe, and is happily married, you've come to the right place. Let us journey together...

Upcoming post--Yankees/Nationals game tonight