Posts Tagged ‘Paul Gaszak’

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

My senior year of high school, I vowed to get in shape. At that point, I had been playing the role of “fat kid” since at least 5th grade, and I was tired of being uncomfortable in my own skin thanks to the teasing and invisibility to girls.

I decided to workout each day after school. I would go home, say hi to my mom, and then disappear into the basement, where I would lift weights and run tiny 25 foot laps across the room for 30-60 minutes.

I had always been athletic despite my weight, but the chubby kid will always get picked last for teams in gym class regardless of his abilities. My short basement laps weren’t just to get in shape; they were also to prove a point and train for a specific goal. Thus, my fitness coming out party was the day in gym when we had to do the PACER test (or “Beep Test”), which has everyone lineup on one side of the gym and run to the other end to the sound of beeps that set the pace.

Pacer test

Children being tortured by the PACER test.

It was back and forth in bursts, just like in my basement. As the test goes on, the beeps increase in frequency, and most people cannot keep up. Once a person fails to make it across the gym before a beep sounds, they are eliminated from the test. After more than one hundred beeps, the handful of runners remaining were typically stars on the track, cross country, and basketball teams.

Beep Test

Normally, I dropped out around 30-something beeps. But this time, I finished the entire test with the other fit kids, to the shock of everyone in the gymnasium.

I kept running for a while after achieving that goal, but I found it hard to stay motivated, because running was hard to measure on my own. We didn’t have a treadmill at home, and there was no track near the house, so measuring time, speed, and distance was difficult. I tried to make up arbitrary courses to time myself on with my handheld stopwatch, like running down the street around the cul-de-sac and back in the fastest time possible. It worked for a time, but ultimately it felt unsatisfying. I tried driving over to tracks to run, but it all seemed too complicated.

I fell away from running for almost a decade, and when I got back into it, one of the biggest motivators to help me succeed was my smartphone and MapMyRun app. Suddenly, I could run anywhere I wanted and know how fast and how long I was going. It also tracks all my data, so each time I went out to run, I could push myself to run a little faster and farther than before. In no time, I went from someone who dreaded running a mile or two, to someone who was running half-marathons. I could have always been running outside, but the app was that extra little push to motivate me.

Technological innovations that inspire and motivate us aren’t new, necessarily – they just continue to evolve and improve. For example, like many people, my fiancee is currently obsessed with her FitBit. There have been days when I find her walking circles around our kitchen table so she can make her daily goal of steps. The device’s accompanying app allows FitBit users to compete in daily steps challenges, and during her first challenge against family members, I thought she might attempt walking to the moon in order to claim victory.

fitbit-logo.jpg

That FitBits are so popular seems odd when broken down to its most simple function: it’s a pedometer, which is nothing new at all. But the FitBit is a fancy, elaborate, 21st century pedometer that will get someone like my fiancee to demand we go for a walk at night in freezing temperatures just so she can win her FitBit challenge.

Likewise, last week, I downloaded an app called “Productive” that is intended to build habits. Users input what habit they would like to form – such as exercising daily – and the app delivers notifications to encourage the behavior, as well as tracks data like successful/unsuccessful days and streaks of successful days.

I have five habits in my app, including exercise and writing. For writing, I felt I had fallen off the wagon pretty hard in recent months. Now, within five days of downloading the app, I have written and performed a nonfiction story at a local live lit show, penned an Op-Ed article that I submitted to the New York Times, and wrote this piece for the Flaneur’s Turtle. I’d say the free app has been worth it so far.

Of course, all of the apps and devices can only work if we support their missions with our own willpower and action. No app can do the exercising or writing for me; well, not yet, at least. There are also plenty of arguments that can be made that technology is making us lazier and more dependent, rather than self-motivated and independent. (See: Wall-E.)

wall-e-2.jpg

I understand the satire, but I still kind of want a floating chair…and a soda.

Yet, sometimes it takes only the tiniest spark of motivation to spur us to keep pushing forward with our goals, and if that spark is a notification on our smartphones – a device we all have in front of our faces at all times – then it’s all the better and easier to be inspired.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

What’s your favorite Michael Jackson song?

Think about it for a second.

Okay, what’s your answer?

Today, I tested a hypothesis of mine by texting and asking a number of people this same question. Everyone, without exception, responded within seconds:

“‘PYT.’ No question.”

“I like ‘Man in the Mirror.’”

“Probably ‘Billy Jean.’”

“I like ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.’”

“‘The Way You Make Me Feel.’”

“‘Thriller.’”

“Oh – ‘Man in the Mirror.’”

For me, my answer is “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”

Now, why am I asking?

About five years ago, I had an idea to have popular music playing in my classroom as students arrived for our 8:00am class. I thought it would be fun and inject a bit of energy into a group of very tired people (myself included) who had just woken up.

However, I balked.

Generally, people are very judgmental and combative about music. Not just students – all people. I started to envision people would arrive and, rather than enjoy the music, there would just be gripes like “I hate this song?” or “Who listens to this?” or “This singer is terrible!” So, I abandoned the idea.

Instead, I spun it into a class activity. I broke the class into groups and asked them to come up with songs that would appeal to 90% or more of the entire diverse Robert Morris University community, which includes students, staff, faculty, and administrators of all ages, races, and backgrounds. Each group presented their best option to the entire class, and then we voted on which song was the best fit to appeal to that diverse audience.

In the years since, I’ve done this same activity with around 15-20 classes, and the answer in all but one instance has led us to the same artist:

Michael Jackson.

Around 75% of the time, the specific answer is “Billie Jean” with an occasional “Thriller” sprinkled in.

Billie Jean

A few years ago, after years of getting Michael Jackson as the answer to this experiment, I tried out my original concept just to see what would happen. I got to my classroom early and setup a playlist of “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky” at the height of their popularity. I then left the room so the “teacher” wouldn’t be present. Just before class started, I peeked in. The music was playing and nearly everyone in the room was dead silent and motionless. Some of them even looked like they were reenacting A Clockwork Orange.

clockwork-horror

“This isn’t lucky at all!!!”

It confirmed my original fear, especially when I got into the class and some students started to gripe about those (at the time) extremely popular songs. This means that even the most popular contemporary songs and artists have no chance at appealing to 90% or more of an extremely diverse audience. But Michael Jackson always does.

Which leads me back to my experiment today.

When I talk about my favorite artists and bands, typically the discussion starts with, “Have you ever heard of this band?” or, “Do you like this song by this group?” Through years of this classroom activity, and through many discussions with friends and colleagues, I realized that Michael Jackson is the only artist for whom you can immediately assume that everyone will know, everyone will like, and everyone will have an immediate response to what their favorite MJ song is as if they have thought about it many times before (which they have).

So, I tested the hypothesis. As I asked a bunch of people today, “What’s your favorite Michael Jackson song?” no one said, “Eh, I don’t like him,” or “I don’t really know his music.” Everyone had an immediate response, literally within seconds.

It isn’t strange that people would love “The King of Pop,” but it is amazing that the love is so universal and unquestioned.

However, strangely, almost no one these days identifies Michael Jackson as their favorite artist. That age has passed, and perhaps just the generation of people who grew up during the time the Thriller album was released would be in play to identify MJ as their favorite artist, but the music remains unquestionably popular to everyone.

My next idea was to wonder if there are any other artists, in any other medium, that are on the “Michael Jackson Level” in this 90% appeal scenario. While sharing this whole topic with my colleagues today, we kicked around a few names. I thought perhaps Steven Spielberg; everyone has to love at least one movie from his catalog, be it Jurassic Park or Indiana Jones or Jaws or E.T. A colleague then proposed The Beatles. Both were good options, but unlike Michael Jackson, we were able to immediately identify ways in which those two would not have the 90% appeal.

Thus, the “King of Pop” really is the king of universal appeal.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

There are so many great theme songs from movies, television shows, videos games, and more. A bit of news came out late last week that got a lot of people talking online, and it got my favorite theme song of all-time stuck in my head. It also got me thinking about what are my favorite theme songs. While there are so many great options, here are my favorite theme songs of all-time:

Honorable Mentions (Alphabetical Order): The Big Bang Theory, Family Guy, Home Improvement, Indiana Jones, Saved by the Bell, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Stars Wars – Main Theme, Super Mario Bros., Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – 80s cartoon.

5. Star Wars – The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)

I’m not much of a Star Wars fan, but if I hear even a few notes of the Imperial March, I’ll be whistling it for no less than the next hour. Or, if I’m in a situation where whistling is unwelcome, it plays in my head on loop while I cup my hand over my mouth and breathe like Dark Vader. The Star Wars theme itself is also fabulous, but I’m going with the Dark Side on this one.

4. NBA on NBC Theme

Any basketball fan, and especially any Chicagoan, over the age of 30 should have fond memories of this John Tesh composed theme song for the NBA on NBC broadcasts. For Bulls fans, it should make you feel all warm and happy inside, because whenever we heard this tune in the 90s, it meant we were about to get 48 minutes of Michael Jordan eviscerating another team.

*Sigh* – I miss this theme. TNT, ESPN, ABC – somebody please talk to John Tesh and bring back this music before NBA broadcasts!

3. Jurassic Park

I was 11-years-old when Jurassic Park came out in 1993. I don’t know a single person of my generation who doesn’t love Jurassic Park. We were all wide-eyed kids staring at the silver screen in disbelief of the “real” dinosaurs that summer, and we all have – still to this day – an unhealthy obsession with velociraptors and T-rexes. The Jurassic Park theme could conceivably be the theme song of my generation, if it weren’t for the next song on this list….

2. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

“This is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down….”

Go ahead and finish it. You know you’re physically and mentally incapable of resisting the urge.

1. The Legend of Zelda

If you are not into video games, put aside any potential bias for a moment and hear me out. The Legend of Zelda is one of the longest-running, most famous, and most popular video game series of all-time. One of the reasons the game is so iconic is because its theme is so damn good.

Just last week, news surfaced that Netflix is in talks to produce a live-action Legend of Zelda series. If the show does happen, I sincerely hope each episode’s title sequence has this epic orchestral rendition of the theme playing. Do yourself a favor and listen to this beautiful version, especially if you’ve never heard it or if your memories of Zelda are restricted to sounds coming from your 1980s TV and Nintendo Entertainment System.

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.