Posts Tagged ‘Paul Gaszak’

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I have been a sports fan my whole life, and I engage with sports everyday in some fashion, be it watching games, reading articles, or talking with family and friends.

In all my years of sports, “Deflategate” may be the dumbest controversy I have ever encountered.

For those unaware, Deflategate is the ongoing controversy surrounding the NFL’s New England Patriots, who were found to have used underinflated footballs during their offensive possessions in last Sunday’s AFC Championship against the Indianapolis Colts. League rules require the balls to be between 12.5-13.5 PSI. The balls used by the Patriots were found to be around 2 PSI under those requirements. In theory, deflated balls are easier to throw, catch, and handle, which could have given the Patriots a miniscule advantage, particularly in the sloppy weather in which the game was played.

Deflated-NFL-Football

Note: This is way less than 2 PSI under regulation.

Before I continue, let me preface my comments by noting I am a Miami Dolphins fan. Not only do I not have an allegiance with the Patriots, but as division rivals, I actively root against them every season. I have no pro-Pats bias.

With that said, Deflategate is so stupid that I may scream until my lungs deflate. I am already tired of hearing about it and I know it will be the focus of all NFL conversations up to and through the Super Bowl. If the Patriots win, idiots will be screaming for an asterisk to be attached to the title; if they lose, fans will be screaming about karma.

Good lord – fans and media are going to lose their collective minds and ruin the biggest game in American sports over 2 PSI of pressure.

In my best Allen Iverson voice: "Pressure? We talkin' about pressure?"

In my best Allen Iverson voice: “Pressure? We talkin’ about pressure?”

Everyone, from commentators to fans to players on the Colts, agrees that the inflation of the balls had absolutely no impact on the outcome of the Patriots 45-7 dismantling of the Indianapolis Colts.

Still, plenty of people have been whining, “It doesn’t matter if it helped the Patriots win or not. It’s the principle of the matter; they cheated! Fine them! Take away draft picks! Suspend the Patriots head coach! Put the Colts in the Super Bowl!”

Wah, wah, wah!

Shut up, you horde of hypocritical, holier-than-thou sports fans and media.

In every sport, every day, players and coaches are bending or breaking rules to get an advantage, or they are actively trying to deceive the opponents or referees to gain an advantage. Anyone who has played sports at any level who claims they never “cheated” in any fashion is either a liar or a magnificently upstanding loser

Here are some examples of common “cheating” in sports:

  • Flopping, particularly basketball and soccer. The entire purpose is to deceive the officials into calling a foul, thus giving his/her team an advantage through an illegal act.
  • In football or baseball, when a player traps a catch. (ie: The ball hits the ground and the player knows it did, but they try to sell it to everyone else as if it was caught.)
  • In football and basketball, players illegally holding/grabbing on every play, hoping that they will not get caught by the officials as they gain an unfair advantage over their opponent.

When any sports fan, myself included, sees their team commit a blatant foul or penalty that is NOT caught by the officials, we don’t get upset and demand that our team be punished for their crimes. Instead, we say, “Sweet! We got away with that one!” and appreciate that the bypassing of rules will help us to victory.

Still, people will say, “But those examples are different! That’s gamesmanship! Acts like those are part of the culture of competition. Wah, wah, wah!”

Shut up.

Let’s talk doctoring, then. In football, there are stories about doctored jerseys going back for generations, from putting grease on jerseys to make them slick, to sewing ball bearings into the fabric.

Or, how about doctored footballs? In the wake of this Deflategate absurdity, current and former NFL quarterbacks including Aaron Rodgers, Brad Johnson, and Mark Brunell have talked about how doctoring the football is the norm. Brad Johnson even paid $7500 dollars to have people doctor the balls he used during his Super Bowl victory with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003.

Should Tampa Bay forfeit their Super Bowl title?

Or should the Dallas Cowboys demand an opportunity to play in this year’s Super Bowl, since they lost to Aaron Rodger’s Green Bay Packers in the playoffs? After all, Aaron may have had an over-inflated ball, which is his preference.

Be it sports or any other issue in our world, people will rail against perceived injustices in the most illogical, hypocritical ways.

For example, take another form of “cheating”: performance enhancing drugs – steroids, HGH, etc.

In baseball, many sports fans and media members will never forgive players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire for using performance enhancing drugs. They were among the greatest players of their generation, yet they will likely be ostracized forever in terms of being recognized for their on-the-field accomplishments.

In football, players who take performance enhancing drugs are penalized and suspended for several games. Yet, fans don’t blink and then welcome those players back with open arms, no different than if the same player had missed those games due to an injury. A few players on the Dolphins were suspended for illegal substances this year. All I thought, like any other Dolphins fan was, “I can’t wait until Week 5 when these guys are back to help the defense!”

My Dolphins are an irrelevent bunch of losers, though. How about a more relevant example. Before last year’s Super Bowl, the eventual champion Seattle Seahawks – who are back in the Super Bowl this year – had a league-leading five players suspended for PED usage. Raise your hand if you knew or cared? Where are the people marching on the NFL headquarters with torches in hand to demand that the Seahawks be stripped of their title? As Deflategate continues in the next two weeks, should all of the Seahawks players be tested to make sure they aren’t cheating?

Should any player or team cheat? No. I’m not advocating it. Whether it’s a holding call, PED usage, or a deflated football, if it is proven that rules were broken, then the team/player should be penalized appropriately. Then, move on with life.

However, the media has already blown up Deflategate to such absurd proportions that you’d think the Patriots had hired Jeff Gillooly to coordinate taking out Andrew Luck’s knee at halftime.

nancy-kerrigan-attack

Who saw a Jeff Gillooly reference coming in this post? Not me, and I’m writing it!

Ultimately, in this case, I think the outrage is a mix of jilted lover/jealous fan syndrome.

The Patriots and coach Bill Belichick have been caught cheating before – the “Spygate” controversy. Both Spygate and Deflategate had little to no impact on the games, but people jumped on their moral high horses. Now, like a jilted lover, people are mad that the dude who cheated on them once before and said he wouldn’t do it again has cheated again. Only, with 2 PSIs, it was less like having an affair and more like saying good afternoon to the female cashier ringing you up at the grocery store.

And, face it, fans are jealous of the Patriots. Any fan who claims otherwise is fibbing again. The Patriots are the preeminent franchise in football, if not all of sports, over the past 15 years. As a Dolphins fan, if it would help my team be dominant and go to six Super Bowls in the next 15 years, I’d go deflate some footballs right now.

So, to borrow Aaron Rodgers’ infamous line from earlier this season: relax. Enjoy the Super Bowl, which will be a great matchup between two great teams, both of whom deserve to be in the big game. And don’t worry about PSI unless you’re checking the air in your car tires.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

In Tricia Lunt’s most recent piece on the Flaneur’s Turtle, she defined guilty pleasures like so:

What makes a pleasure (or preference) guilty? It must be common, low (as in the equally problematic and xenophobic term “low brow”), or beneath us. It is most certainly not good. At best, it may be kitsch, or is it camp? In order for a pleasure to be a guilty one, we must sense that the thing itself—usually some artifact associated with pop culture—is somehow bad. Maybe we might even like it because it is bad.

At first glance, I agreed completely with her definition, particularly since it fits my most immediate personal example of a guilty pleasure: The Celebrity Apprentice.

I can’t get enough of that show. There’s just something mesmerizing about watching D-Level celebrities fight to extend their 15 minutes of fame while trying to prove that they can be semi-functioning humans by completing simple tasks like selling a pie or creating a magazine spread. And I like to marvel at how Donald Trump and his sons can be so ugly, while his daughter is so damn hot.

"One of these things is not like the others...."

Punnett squares can yield fascinating results….

When I’m watching the show, I’m happy, but I’m also looking around my living room to see if anyone is spying on me with judging eyes. I know the show is absurd, trashy TV, but I love it.

As I poked around my mind for other personal examples of guilty pleasures, I began to question if some of them fit the definition, which led me to believe that Tricia’s definition needs some expansion.

Guilty pleasures do not necessarily have to be low brow, but they must be self-identified. Also, guilty pleasures are contextual.

By self-identified, I mean that we have to feel guilty and ashamed of something for it to qualify as a guilty pleasure. People cannot dictate that something we like be a guilty pleasure.

For example, among the many drinks I like, I’m also fond of “girl drinks.” I have no problem ordering a martini or margarita or any other drink that may be frozen, fruity, or pink. Friends don’t say a word if I have a beer in hand, but I’ve had plenty of friends tease me about how much I love girly drinks. But I don’t care. I like those drinks and I’m not ashamed. So, friends can tease me or be embarrassed to be sitting at the same table with me. However, if I’m not ashamed, then that drink isn’t a guilty pleasure.

But if I was ashamed, those drinks wouldn’t be low brow. Any drink over $10 with top shelf liquor is a far cry from a PBR. Thus, guilty pleasures don’t have to be low brow.

Guilty pleasures are also contextual.

Right now, I love the popular Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson song “Uptown Funk.” It’s like Bruno is channeling The Time and James Brown. It’s such a great song, and I’m willing to tell anyone I like it.

Most of the time, anyway.

I'd still take The Time over Prince, which is another thing I'm not guilty about.

I’d still take The Time over Prince, which is another thing I’m not guilty about.

I was at my gym the other day, and as I stepped off the treadmill to head to the weights, “Uptown Funk” started blasting in my earbuds. Were I at home, in the office, in a bar, or around friends, I’d probably have started bouncing my head along, if not full-on singing and dancing. But I was in a large open space full of dudes lifting heavy stuff and I was joining their numbers. I immediately turned down my music, fearing that if a single funky note escaped my earbuds, the gaggle of protein powder gulping power lifters would all drop their Olympic weight bars to escort me out of the building for not being manly enough.

In other words, in a particular context, I became ashamed of something I wouldn’t otherwise be ashamed about.

So, there you have it – I’ve amended the definition. And now that I’ve clarified all of this, I’m going to go listen to Bruno while I have a margarita swirl. And I won’t feel guilty at all.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty.

I watched a lot of movies over the holidays. I went to the theater, visited Redbox, logged onto Netflix, and watched DVDs and Blu-Rays I own. However, there is one thing I didn’t do:

I didn’t go to a video store.

Whenever I visit my parents out in the Chicago ‘burbs, I pass by Orland Video. It’s the video store my family would go to when I was a kid, and it’s one of only two brick and mortar video stores I know of that are still open.

Whenever I drive by, I wonder how – or even why – it is still open. With on-demand digital content and video rental kiosks, who are the customers that are keeping this store alive? Even my parents, who admittedly dislike technology and were the last people I knew who still went to video stores, migrated to Redbox years ago.Orland Video

Yet, the video store is still open, with its same yellow sign glowing at the end of a stripmall – a symbol of different, older times.

I first tried Netflix during my college days. Back then, Netflix mailed out physical copies of DVDs. It was a slow and obnoxious process. Netflix had some perks, but it was still far easier and faster to drive over to the video store. When Netflix first started offering streaming services, technology hadn’t quite caught up with the concept yet. Internet speeds weren’t fast enough – at least they weren’t in my house, or anyone else’s I knew. The movie would take a dreadfully long time to load, then about ten minutes of the movie would play, and it would go right back to the loading screen. Trying to watch a 90 minute movie was more of a three or four-hour process.

However, anyone with common sense knew that as soon as streaming content got faster, the old ways – the video stores – were going to die. And this was before Redbox emerged, adding just one more nail in the video store’s coffin.

These advancements in movie-viewing technology are great: they’re easier, cheaper, and more convenient than the old ways.

Still, we’ve lost something with the demise of the video store. They were more than just a place to rent movies and video games.

They were a part of the family. On Fridays, once the school week was over, my dad and I would go to the video store to wander the aisles. I could rent movies or video games, and he would rent a movie for him and mom to watch. He’d notoriously pick anything that was labeled as “Funny” on the box, my mom wouldn’t like it, and he’d defend himself by saying, “But the box said it was hilariously funny.” The weekend was then coming to a close officially when someone, usually mom, would ask, “Did anyone remember to return the videos?”

Video stores were a part of the neighborhood community. At their peak, videos stores were everywhere, so each drew from the neighborhoods immediately around it. Thus, there was always a good chance of bumping into neighbors and friends. Also, the employees and owners would get to know all the regulars. The video store was a place for familiar faces.

Video stores were a hangout for friends. Especially in my teens, I made countless trips with my brother and his friends, or with my friends, to the video store. The trip wasn’t just about picking a movie – usually a B-movie that we suspected would be so bad it would be good. The trip was about being together, discussing movies, arguing over what to pick, and figuring out who could rent the movies since most of us had late charges on our own accounts that we didn’t want to pay.

With the rise of smartphones, there are plenty of people and studies that bemoan how the technology – which is incredibly beneficial – has led to a decrease in social interaction. I, like most anyone else, wouldn’t give up my smartphone, but it’s hard to ignore some of the negative effects the technology has had, especially for those of us who lived before smartphones were in everyone’s hands.

Similarly, video stores are another, less-often cited, example of a decline in community due to an increase in technology.

Just as I wouldn’t give up my smartphone, I wouldn’t opt to go back to the old ways of the video store. At its most basic function, the video store was to rent movies, and we now have better, faster, easier ways to do that.

But, whenever I see that old yellow sign on the video store, I can’t help but get a bit nostalgic about the fun times that have been left behind with our technological step forward.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

During the first Sunday of the NFL season, I did a lot of “grown up” chores in the morning: I graded papers, cleaned up my house, did a little yard work, and went grocery shopping. Around 11:00am, I was on my couch doing some more grading with the NFL pregame programs on as white noise, all while having a big kid, low-cal breakfast of Greek yogurt and water.

In nearly all areas of my life, I can identify ways in which I’ve grown and evolved as a person from childhood to where I am now as a 32-year-old. Being disciplined enough to get up and be productive on a Sunday morning is just one example.

Then at 12:00pm, as the NFL season kicked-off, I devolved into a child.

Though I have lived my entire life in Chicago, I have been a huge Miami Dolphins fan since 1991-92. (Just accept that and move on. Explaining it would take a whole separate post.) My emotional investment in Dolphins games takes me from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Tantrum.

From Week 1, here are some of my person highlights:

  • Kick-off: I am on my couch, knees pressed into my chest, and shaking like I’m awaiting terrible news. (Which, as a Dolphins fan, I normally am.)

    A candid picture of me at kick-off.

    A candid picture of me at kick-off.

  • Dolphins up 7-0 early: I jump off my couch and swing my fists like I’m in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out.
  • Dolphins down 10-20 at halftime: I slump into my couch, mumbling about how it’s the same old Dolphins who are going to break my heart like every other season, and how I’ve lost faith in life, no one loves me, and the sun no longer shines.
  • Dolphins sack Patriots QB Tom Brady and force a fumble: I scream and pump my fist while saying a bunch of words to Tom Brady that he can’t hear and I can’t repeat on the Turtle.
  • Close game in the 4th quarter: I am in a half-squat position with my hands on my knees like I’m playing linebacker for the Dolphins, all with my face about two feet from my 50” TV screen.
  • Dolphins make a defensive stop against Brady: I have more choice words and perhaps a one-fingered salute for Tom, while still acknowledging that he is unfairly handsome, which may be part of why I am giving him the finger.
  • Dolphins win: I walk aimlessly around my house clapping. I begin commenting aloud on the team’s effort as if I’m in their locker room.

This behavior hasn’t changed at all from younger Paul, such as two incidents in 1997 when I was 15:

  • Monday, October 27, 1997: The Chicago Bears (0-7) defeat the Miami Dolphins (5-2) on Monday Night Football in overtime for their first win of their season. I stay up past midnight depressed and skip school to save myself the abuse from Bears fans.
  • Sunday, December 28, 1997: The New England Patriots crush the Dolphins in a Wild Card playoff game. I throw the TV remote across the room and watch batteries fly through the air.

This is all despite me not being a terribly emotive person. Though I am a very emotional person, I (often) exercise great restraint in demonstrating any real highs or lows, which has been noted at work where colleagues comment on how easy-going and even-keeled I seem.

However, the results of any meaningful Dolphins game will turn me inside out, putting all of those meaningless, superficial, game-related emotions out into the world. If the Dolphins win, I’m pleasant and cheerful; I’ll go out, do things, make friends, bake you a cake, whatever. If they lose, I am a grumpy terror, I hate the universe, and I may run over mailboxes with my car just so everyone else can feel some of my pain.

Check your mail for ads, bills, and evidence of my heartbreak.

Check your mail for flyers, bills, and evidence of my heartbreak.

This is all likely why my dad calls me after every Dolphins game. He loves pushing people’s buttons, and it surely delights him that there is at least one topic he knows will always elicit a reaction out of me. Even if the Dolphins play well, he will still poke at me by asking if I left the windows open in my house so “all the kids in the neighborhood could learn a bunch of new words.”

I’m not ashamed to admit any of these behaviors, because I know I am not in the minority. This type of over-invested, over-emotional response to sports is par for the course. If anything, I am one of the tame fans! (Just go look around YouTube or Twitter for all of the evidence of fans from all sports who have had complete, epic meltdowns after their teams lost.)

Why does all of this happen, though? Why do fans get so worked up? So invested?

The truth, I believe, is that the vast majority of us aren’t THAT invested. Sure, I love my Dolphins. Sure, I want them to win. But, in truth, if I was writing a list of the biggest priorities in my life, my seafaring mammals would be well down the list after food, water, shelter, health, family, friends, work, and lots more. Yet, externally, my reactions make it seem as though I’m more concerned with the Dolphins than the rest of the universe.

ESPN talk show personality Mike Greenberg hit on one of the keys reasons for this sort of emotional outpouring in his book Why My Wife Thinks I’m an Idiot: The Life and Times of a Sportscaster Dad. To paraphrase, he comments on the value of sports as a great piece of distraction and fun from reality. During the bulk of our week, we are caring for ourselves and others, working tons of hours, and hearing a never-ending cycle of bad news from around the world.

In normal circumstances, especially at work, we have to keep our emotions in check. But with our teams, what a relief and joy it is that we can scream, yell, complain, and wear our hearts on our sleeves without any real consequences.

Unless you’re a remote control or mailbox…then there may be some consequences.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Ear blowing has been a hot topic in the past couple days.

On Wednesday in Game 5 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals, Lance Stephenson of the Indiana Pacers was caught blowing into the ear of Miami Heat star LeBron James while defending him on the court. It was all part of Stephenson’s continued tactics, both on the court and in the media, to try to get under James’ skin and throw him off his game.

lance-stephenson-lebron-james-blow-ear

The tactic, and the image of Stephenson mid-blow, has been all over sports media in the days since. Nearly everyone – from players to analysts to fans – has panned the tactic, such as Ray Allen of the Heat who called Stephenson’s antics “buffoonery.”

The incident has also prompted former players to share the oddest form of defense ever played on them. On ESPN, former player and head coach Avery Johnson said an opponent once tried to pull his shorts down during a game.

Yes, the reaction to Lance’s gentle blow in the ear has been negative.

But I will defend it.

In high school and college, my life revolved around basketball. I was particularly obsessed with competing in 3-on-3 streetball tournaments. One such tourney was Hoop It Up at Chicago’s McCormick Place in 1999.

On my tournament teams, I was always the shortest player at only 5’10”. However, I was also typically the strongest player on the court for either team. This often resulted in me guarding the other team’s biggest playing, meaning I regularly matched-up against guys a half foot or more taller than me. With looser street rules in tourney games (“no blood, no foul”), I could use my strength to push these taller players away from the basket like a football lineman. Not only did I get the big guys away from their spot on the court, but I also frustrated the hell out of them. For one, it was irritating for them to be pushed around like that by a “little” player. Also, I used my pointy elbows to do much of the pushing, which meant I was inflicting a tiny bit of pain. I frustrated plenty of opponents straight out of the game, to the point that all they wanted to do was try to shove back at me (unsuccessfully).

Then came Hoop It Up, when I got paid back in an odd way.

My team won our first round game in dramatic fashion, eeking out a hard fought game against a good team. Then, in the second round, we came out on fire. Our opponent was simply no match for us.

Yet I will never, ever forget this team.

Once again, I was guarding the tallest opposing player, who happened to be a big guy with a sweet, well-coiffed fro that had a pick in it the entire game. It was almost like he acknowledged that he wasn’t a good player, so he was going to make sure he at least had his style in place.

This particular game was perimeter-oriented, as my teammates kept making deep shots. This led me to spend lots of time tangled with this big guy under the basket for rebound position.

And the whole time we battled, he was tickling me.

Tickling. Me.

I don’t mean he grabbed me while trying to get position and he just happened to tickle me. He was straight up, blatantly tickling me. And he made no attempt to deny that’s what he was up to.

Apparently, if you can’t beat them, tickle them.

Despite the description, I was not being guarded and tickled by Questlove. Now that would be one hell of a story.

Despite the description, I was not being guarded and tickled by Questlove. Now that would be one hell of a story.

I spent most of the game wondering if the tickling was actually happening or if I was imagining things. I was more than accustomed to getting hit during games: elbows, hands, knees, hips. Anyone who has played basketball knows how deceptively physical and violent the game is.

Yet, for all the contact I was familiar with, I had never been tickled.

I kept boxing out and grabbing rebounds and I never said anything about the tickling, mostly because it was clear he trying to get in my head along with my ticklish areas. I figured acknowledging it in any way would be a win for him, a sign that it was throwing me off. And it was throwing me off. I never expected I’d spend a half-hour getting tickled that day.

Thankfully, it turns out that spending the entire game tickling an opponent is an effective method for psychological warfare, but is a horribly ineffective method for grabbing rebounds. I was a horrible rebounder, and yet I never grabbed so many as I did that game.

After the game, a blowout win for us, I asked my teammates if they had seen what was happening. They didn’t even hesitate: “Yeah, he was tickling you the whole game.”

All of these years later, I have forgotten most of the specifics about many of my tournament games, but I will always remember that guy. In that sense, the tickle technique was remarkably successful: it totally got in my head. On the other hand, when it comes to stats and victories, the tickle test did not earn a passing grade.

So, back to Lance Stephenson. I applaud his blowing in LeBron’s ear. In the video of that moment, as Lance is puckering his lips, LeBron shakes his head and smirks – visual evidence that Lance was getting in both his ear and his head. LeBron had a terrible game (arguably more due to the officiating that the ear blowing), and the Pacers won.

When it comes to sports, any (legal) way to get an advantage is something worth trying. Maybe tickle guy used his method in his first round game and it worked well. Maybe he persevered while tickling me figuring that at any moment I would snap and be thrown off my game. However, that clearly didn’t happen.

Or maybe he just thought I was adorable and deserving of tickles, which I suppose I am. In that case, thanks for the compliment – I’ll never forget our momentary basketball tickle bromance.

Ultimately, wins are what matter most in sports. If odd little tactics can provide some small advantage, then I say tickle and blow away.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Our first 21 years of life are stacked with milestone birthdays, like:

16 (Driving!)
18 (Voting! Oh, and smoking, and armed services, and such.)
21 (Drinking and Gambling! responsibly….)

Today I turned 32, meaning those milestones have long since passed.

Through my mid-20s, one of several reasons why I fell out of love with birthdays is that the milestones are mostly gone. Well, except for when I turn 35 and run for President. And 65 when I collect social security. And 100 when I get my face on a Smucker’s jar courtesy of a then 148-year-old Willard Scott.

Coming in 2082!  Thanks in advance to Willard Scott.

Coming in 2082! Thanks in advance to Willard Scott.

Last year, I changed my thinking. I wrote on The Flaneur’s Turtle about making my birthday special by running my first half-marathon on my 31st birthday. By any normal standards, 31 is not a milestone birthday, but I made it one. I don’t remember what I did on many of my birthdays, but long after my face is on the Smucker’s jar, I will always remember where I was and what I did on my 31st.

Thus, as we get older, the milestones aren’t gone; they’ve evolved.

It is like assigning an essay in an English class. If I limit a class to a single prompt for an essay, many students will find that boring and will be displeased with the limited options. However, there will be little confusion about what is expected of them. The final products will be solid but unspectacular, because I haven’t allowed them the opportunity to do something unique.

On the other hand, if I give a class freedom to select their own topics, many students will be stymied by having unlimited options. Some of the papers will be a mess; yet, others will be brilliant and unique, and those papers wouldn’t exist had I dictated the topic.

The regular milestone birthdays are the essay prompt: we know exactly what we’re expected to do on birthdays like our 21st. The entire event is already prescribed for us. And though many people think their 21st birthday of getting trashed was THE definitive, unique 21st birthday – I’m sorry to say it wasn’t.

All other birthdays are like having no prompt: there are no directions and nothing is determined for us. It may not be easy to find something special and unique to do that day, and the possibility for failure is there. However, there is also the potential for doing something special that goes well beyond the predetermined paths of our traditional milestone birthdays.

For this birthday, I have spread my celebrations around. I once again ran the half-marathon, and a few days before that, I performed on-stage at a Live Lit venue for the first time doing a creative nonfiction/humor piece.

For me, “special” means a challenge, a new experience, a victory, and I will continue to seek out ways to make my birthdays special even though they are not milestones and no predetermined path has been set for me.

At least until 2017 when I am set to start my Presidential campaign.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty. 

In high school, my indefatigable math teacher, Mr. Sycz, informed me and the rest of his unsuspecting students that the majority of adult life is spent at work. As such, he wisely advised us to choose our careers carefully. What he failed to mention was that all those hours at work will be spent with other people. Regrettably, there is no way to select our coworkers; the only recourse is to cross your fingers. How fortunate, then, that I love both what I do and the people with whom I work.

I’ve always liked working cooperatively with others, a natural result of growing up with six siblings. At every job I’ve had in my 25 years of RMUILsealwork (Cowgill Printing, McDonald’s, Dimitri’s Restaurant, Mr. Todd’s Cleaners, Royalview Manor, First Community Village, The Courtyard, Country Counter, Dick’s Last Resort, Cleveland State University, Kent State University, Cuyahoga Community College, Grafton Street Pub, Lakeland Community College, Academy at the Lakes, Hillsborough Community College, Harold Washington College, Columbia College, and RMU), I’ve met and worked with fantastic people who’ve helped make any work less tiresome. The same is true here at good ol’ RMU, where I have worked since arriving in Chicago in 2007.

My RMU colleagues are tremendous people, and we know each other incredibly well. Since my coworkers are diligent and dedicated teachers, I am already predisposed to like them and admire their efforts. They are all CLAwonderfully smart, too, of course, each in his or her unique way. Everyone I work with will stop to help a fellow teacher or student. Everyone will devote his or her expertise to our shared purpose: the endlessly worthwhile endeavor of education.

Most importantly, my co-workers at RMU, specifically the CLA members (many of them Turtle writers, too) are generous and thoughtful. What follows is just a small sampling of the everyday—but in no way ordinary—kindnesses my colleagues show to one another.

Paula provides lunch when Fridays involve the dreaded all-day meetings.

If there are cookies next to the coffee pot, they are probably courtesy of Turtle father Michael.

Jenny supplies us all with fresh vegetables from her considerable garden.

Pyle created the “cabinet of wonders,” a repository of free books, Cd’s, and DVD’s to share.

I’d be surprised to find a more sympathetic listener than Ellen.

Cynthia keeps the refrigerator stocked with fancy flavored creams to augment the free coffee.

Pat McNicholas brings homemade fudge every finals week.

Paul jots down the best zingers on his whiteboard to highlight the general goofiness in the CLA suite.

If Peter does anything, you can bet it will be done with “alacrity and aplomb.”

Like any good family, we endure each other’s idiosyncrasies, often turning flaws into perfections of a different kind. Mick tells the same Irish jokes every St. Patrick’s Day, year after year: how excruciatingly wonderful.

When my colleagues aren’t busy conducting research, planning curriculum, teaching classes, grading papers, or attending meetings, we can be found in the CLA office giggling like teenagers. We pretend that we are in a workplace sitcom called “RMU Kiddin’ Me.” We’re all certain the show would be hilarious, of course, which illustrates my good fortune in both terms of my job and my coworkers.

There is nothing quite as delightful as laughing at work, something I enjoy every single day. The funniest line or exchange will be added to Paul’szipper white board. If a joke is too inappropriate, it is designated as “Invisible Whiteboard” material and will remain a joke amongst ourselves.

Today

Paul, “I’ll send you the ZIP file.”

Me, “I can never remember how to unzip things.”

Paul, “Then how do you get dressed in the morning?”

Insert the cutesy sitcom title here.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Daft Punk ruled the Grammy’s on Sunday night, winning five awards including Best Record for “Get Lucky” and Best Album for Random Access Memories. They also had a fun performance of “Get Lucky” with Pharrell, Nile Rodgers, and Stevie Wonder.

daft-punk2I like Daft Punk. I defended “Get Lucky” all year as the best mainstream song of 2013, even as the super catchy “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke flooded airwaves. I own their albums, and their song “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” was just outside my Top 25 on my list of Top Songs of All-Time. I dig their whole robot schtick, which somehow works for them and seems cool rather than forced.

Yet, Daft Punk’s success at the Grammy’s makes me once again question how we Americans view music.

To make that point, we need a brief recap of Daft Punk’s history:

  • Back in 1997, during my high school days, Daft Punk’s “Around the World” was everywhere. Very good (not great) song. Cool video.
  • Then Daft Punk vanished for a while.
  • During my college years in 2001, they reappeared with hits like “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Strong.”
  • Then *POOF* gone.
  • Their third album, 2005’s Human After All, is largely forgettable. It wasn’t until Kanye West’s Graduation album that Daft Punk seemed mainstream again because of Kanye’s song “Stronger” which sampled “Harder, Better, Faster Stronger.”
  • There was some Grammy success in 2009 for a live album, then in 2010 they did the soundtrack for the film Tron: Legacy.
  • In 2013, they released Random Access Memories with the hit “Get Lucky.”
  • So, from 1997-2013, Daft Punk had three albums (not counting Tron or the Live album) with maybe 3-4 very good songs and 1 great song in “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.”

In total, their career track record didn’t add up to what some artists do in ONE great album. Yet, during all that time, people treated Daft Punk as if they had some kind of indie-artist coolness to them, which is nonsense because they had international hit songs – there was no “insider” quality to them. Yet, that aura remained, and this was especially true with the way people lost their minds about Daft Punk doing the soundtrack for Tron, as if it was actually the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jesus who formed a super group for the soundtrack.

Then Random Access Memories comes out, which has two real standout songs – “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance” – both of which feature Pharrell on vocals. And, maybe it’s Pharrell who’s the artist on fire, between “Get Lucky,” “Blurred Lines,” and the deliriously fun “Happy,” Pharrell had as many hits in 2013 as Daft Punk did in the past 10 years. Pharrell’s songs aside, Daft Punk’s album feels like an inferior Jamiroquai album.

(This is when everyone under 30 Googles Jamiroquai and says, “Oh, the band that did that song in Napoleon Dynamite?)

Some of the same groovy, funk-disco deliciousness that makes “Get Lucky” so damn good is what has made Jamiroquai so successful worldwide, yet in America, they were mostly written off as one-hit wonders after their 1996 song “Virtual Insanity.” Maybe Jamiroquai’s lead singer Jay Kay picked the wrong type of headgear. Jamiroqaui remains active and very popular – just not mainstream in America.

jam

Another example is how America lost its mind over the folk-rock stylings of Mumford & Sons, yet barely noticed the harder-edged, lyrically superior folk-punk-rock of another artist from across the pond, Frank Turner, whose 2013 album Tape Deck Heart was the best new album I heard last year, yet only hit 52 on the Billboard Top 200. His single “Recovery” – my favorite song of 2013 – got solid airplay, but didn’t grab hold of the mainstream the same way Mumford hits like “Little Lion Man” did.

I like Daft Punk, Mumford & Sons, Jamiroquai, Frank Turner. I’m not questioning the artists. I’m questioning us, the American music audience. Daft Punk deserves the accolades for “Get Lucky,” but there is frustratingly little logic in our pop culture scene. 

Daft Punk seemed to have earned a decade-long pass from Americans, as if we were just waiting for them to finally release an amazing song like “Get Lucky” just so we could all say, “SEE! I told YOU Daft Punk kicks ass!” Other artists are given no such pass and are cast aside as one-hit wonders even if they continue to produce good music for YEARS after bursting onto the scene.

Many great songs flew under the radar in 2013 – Turner’s “Recovery” being one example – and yet we prop up and reward ultra-obnoxious songs like “Royals” by Lorde. (She should be working on her resume and CV right now. Her 15 minutes is almost up.) 

As someone who plays the piano, classical pianist Lang Lang blew my friggin’ mind with his musical introduction to Metallica at the Grammy’s. I am not bad at the piano, and yet I could NEVER play like that. The audience hardly made a peep. Then, a simple strum of the guitar intro for Metallica’s “One” and the audience went nuts.

Perhaps it’s just that the collective whims of the American music scene are tugged in so many directions by countless variables that the end result is what appears to be a confounding lack of logic. Or maybe it is just illogical.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

To start 2013, I wrote on the Flaneur’s Turtle about New Year’s Resolutions. In part, I noted how with only hours remaining in 2012, I made a list of 11 resolutions for myself, with “none being particularly easy” because they were all large goals and life changes.

I also said that “one of the problems with resolutions is that they often don’t carry any immediate consequences. If the resolution, for example, is to lose weight and a person doesn’t start immediately, there is always next week, next month, next year.”

I jokingly followed by saying, “To motivate myself, I decided to impose a consequence. If I do not accomplish all 11 items by December 31, 2013, I will purchase a little rowboat and some rations, and push myself out into Lake Michigan until I find either enlightenment or hypothermia.”

However, the truth behind the joke was that I was taking these resolutions seriously, because they all did carry an immediate consequence: unhappiness.

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutions-572x433Isn’t that why most people make even the most basic, cliched resolutions? If a person says, “I am going to lose 20 pounds!” it’s likely rooted in that person being unhappy with how they look or feel, or they believe those 20lbs are keeping them from some form of happiness. If a person says, “I’m going to spend less money!” it’s because they are unhappy with being broke and feeling their heart stop in terror at the sight of each bill. That’s what resolutions are: we are trying to resolve our unhappiness.

Likewise, my 11 resolutions were identifying nagging sources of unhappiness that I could fix to push me toward as much happiness as possible. None of this is to say I lead a miserable, unhappy life, nor am I even remotely suggesting my life is “worse” or “harder” than anyone else’s. If anything, I am very fortunate and lucky to have the life I do. Still, I don’t believe in settling. I think we should all continue to work to be better and happier, whether those are small adjustments or massive changes.

Some of my resolutions were public and I blabbed about them constantly to anyone who would listen (like #1, to keep running, working out, and improving my fitness). Others were intensely personal and I never talked to anyone about them. So, I decided to amusingly share the results of my resolutions, without identify what the resolutions was.

The results of my 11 resolutions:

#1: Accomplished, but still working at it.
#2: So-so. I’ll say I failed, because I didn’t do as well as I should have.
#3: Accomplished, technically. But there’s a long way to go.
#4: Yikes. Sort of? Not really?
#5: Significant progress, but not accomplished.
#6: Zero progress.
#7: Complete failure.
#8: Accomplished, just not with the results I wanted.
#9: Accomplished?
#10: Accomplished.
#11: Accomplished.

As we begin 2014, I hope everyone has a wonderful year. I will be updating my resolutions and goals. If you made resolutions, I hope you stick with them and find all the happiness you’re after.

2014-Happy-New-Year1

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Anyone who knows Peter Stern, knows that he has a way with words.  As you can tell from many of his Turtle posts, and as many of his coworkers would readily admit, Peter can be quite loquacious.  But, that does not mean Peter is not wisely pithy when it suits him.  So, for your reading enjoyment, I give you some of the best Peter Stern-isms of the last year, as witnessed by myself and my fellow Turtle-ite Paul Gaszak.

Peter is the master of analogy:

 On the idea of Wrigley Field adding a jumbotron: “It’s like someone whipping out their genitals in Holy Name Cathedral.”

Peter does not view the world in simple dualistic catagories:

RMU Student: I’m a failure.

Dr. Stern: That’s not true. You’re just not a success.

Peter displaying his Socratic wisdom:

Gerry Dedera: Peter, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Peter Stern: I couldn’t be more wrong? Just wait a minute.

Peter contemplating his own photographic image:

I don’t believe that’s me at all; I think it looks much more like Marcel Proust after letting his hair grow out a bit and turn gray.

Peter using humor to illustrate society’s prejudices:

Carol Bivin: Why is it that a woman has never been elected President?
Peter: Well, let me tell ya, sweetie pie….

Peter as instructor:

Paul Gaszak: I told your students to move to the back row, because you educate with such force that there is a blast radius.
Peter: The force was so great that it actually pushed them out the door.

Peter as critic of our society’s obsession with physical beauty:

Paul Gaszak (A runner extraordinaire): Did you make a big deal of Cynthia’s birthday yet?

Peter: We are going to celebrate later when you’re out narcissistically jogging or whatever it is your selfishly do.

Peter being Peter:

Paul Gaszak: I thought we’d be the birthday strippers (for Cynthia’s party). You want to be the policeman or the fireman?

Peter: I can do both.

Happy Holidays, from the Turtle!