Friday, August 31, 2007

When Courtesy Goes Too Far

I was waiting to cross the street yesterday at a fairly busy intersection on Madison's near west side. As I watched the traffic flow for the right time to launch my large frame into the intersection, I noticed a car in the oncoming lane stop and wave me across. Well, this really did me no good as the other lane kept moving. I tried to wave the car off, but he just sat there.

Then it got worse. Another car joined the first, thus allowing me to (theoretically) cross half way. This would have been fine...if there was a median in the center of the street. As there was not, I still stood on one side of the road, unable to cross as the other lane kept moving.

I tried to wave these people off, but they will not move at all, so I had to run across, barely getting to the other side ahead of a garbage truck careening down the street.

What caused this difficult situation? The same thing that causes problems in all facets of modern life...misplaced courtesy.

It is apparently a law in Madison that drivers have to stop at crosswalks to let pedestrians cross. It is, as you might imagine, a law that is sporadically followed and enforced...and this is where the difficulty starts.

It is one of those laws that would work if everyone followed it or no-one did. If just some people follow it, I think it makes you more likely to get hit because people are inclined to "take the driver up" on their "offer" to cross the street. Unless you can wait the "well-meaning" driver out, you have to take the chance of being hit instead of waiting until the opportunity presents itself to cross safely. If I wanted to cross at a more reliable pace, I would find an intersection with a stop sign or a traffic light.

In Chicago, this would never happen. People would never in a million years think of stopping to let people cross if the light was green. Never. Ever. Not kind, caring or concerned for the safety of your fellow man? Yes? More predictable? Absolutely. In Chicago, I can just assume that drivers are dangerous sociopaths who would gladly run me down in the street. The surety of that assumption allows me to react in more predictable ways.

This is just more evidence that the feeling in Madison that we are a kinder, more aware, more community-minded city is often a case of the heart being in the right place but the brain not considering the practical implications.

It is also further proof of another old saw, namely "the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions."

Use those good intentions for something that is really worthwhile and, since you won't be stopping at every crosswalk, you can get to it right away.

Problem solved.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Summertime Done Come And Gone, My Oh My

It hit me for the first time this morning. That feeling that summer is drawing to a close and that the academic year is again upon us.

You see, it has been raining in Madison pretty much non-stop since early Saturday morning (when I left the bar, it was not raining; when I got home, I looked like a pool guy with bad balance). The temperature has also become more temperate; as I write this, it is sixty-five degrees with drizzle outside. This change in the weather patterns has triggered an almost unconcious reaction in me.

It is telling me to meet with my advisor to hammer out TA is telling me to get my office in order and review the texts for is telling me to finish registering so that my refund check will appear and I can stop is telling me, really, that the wheel has come around another rotation and that it is time to start another year.

I always have mixed feelings about this. I hate the summer weather, but like the feeling summer has - open and seemingly endless. I like the months spreading out before me, although I am used to the clausterphobia that schedules bring as well as any person in the modern, industrialized world.

I always look forward to school starting again (yes, I was always one of those sorts of kids...bored with summer by about the end of July). I also realize that, in my almost thirty years in this mortal coil, I have only not been in school for seven academic years (1977/1978-1981-1982 and 1999/2000-2001-2002). It is my life, my passion and I cannot wait to be a part of it again. Still...

There is a part of me that always misses the catch-as-catch-can feel of summer...the being able to, at the drop of a hat, drink beer, go to a ball game, sit by the lake and stare at the sailboats and the diaphenous haze over the surface of the water. Who wouldn't miss that?

This time of transition has always contained another milestone for me, my birthday. While I will comment at more length on my thirtieth birthday, suffice to say that this is more wrapped up than usual in my feelings at present.

So, as these last days of August give waay to September, I look back on a summer of some fun, some frustration, some accomplishment and some shortfall and, all in all, cannot wait for the coming storm. What can I say? I am a glutton for punishment.

Though this is undoubtely true, I will carry those happy moments of summer with me somehow, those last fading streaks of sunlight over the placid water.

These are the things that sustain us.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Elvis Aaron Presley, 1935-1977

Yesterday was the day. The thirtieth anniversary of the death of Elvis Aaron Presley (1/8/1935-8/16/1977). I felt reflective and more than a little sad, I must admit.

Elvis was always a part of my musical life. My dad is a huge Elvis fan, and it most certainly rubbed off on me and my brother. There is a story (apocryphal, possibly) that I was to be named Elvis because of the proximity of his death (8/16/1977) and my birth (9/9/1977) if I was replacing Elvis in the population.

But, and let's be serious, who could ever replace Elvis? He, throughout his life, represented American life, good and bad. He grew and changed with us, for better or worse.

His music was such a part of my young life, and became a part of my adult life. In my opinion, two of his greatest concerts were the 1968 Comeback Special (for musicianship, this is unparalelled) and 1972's Aloha From Hawaii (the first TV show to be simulcast from a satellite feed). Those concerts never fail to entertain, and they show Elvis at his best.

What has been said before should only be repeated briefly here...that he was the most influential pop artist of the 20th century, I'll buy that (excepting Frank Sinatra, but they were both symbols of their ages)...he died too soon (well, sure, but if you ingest as much perscription medication as Elvis did, something bad WILL happen.

I always liked Elvis's spirit, giving jobs to his relatives, handing out Cadillacs like they were breath mints...he was everything that was good and bad about post-war America rolled up in one man. He was, however, generous to a fault and he loved his momma...what could be better?

His best song? I guess this vaires between people, but for me, it is "Kentucky Rain." I could hear that a thousand times and call for it again.

So, let's all raise a glass to Elvis...America has had 43 Presidents, but only one King.

TCB, baby, TCB. If we could all be so dedicated.

Thank you, thank you very much and Elvis HAS left the building, but he has not left us.

Thanks, Elvis.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Thanks, That's Just What I Didn't Need

As I am within a month of my thirtieth birthday, I am beginning to reflect on what this milestone means to me...the results of said contemplation will be presented in this space as the date (September 9) draws nearer.

In these intervening weeks, and coupled with my contemplation, a piece of mail that I got yesterday gave me some pause.

Was it one of those inane "Over The Hill" cards from a "friend?" No.

It was an invitation to join AARP.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Well, I guess I laughed more than anything...seeing as it will be another twenty years before I can join the organization that assures that all people over fifty get deep discounts on hotels and a soul-crushingly boring magazine (it makes airline magazines seem like Playboy).

I am pretty sure that this was a case of sales of mailing lists being sold, and who knows has access to your address anymore. I guess I must do/buy/read something that a lot of more "mature" people do/buy/read.

Nevertheless, it did give me pause. I guess I am getting older, and though I am not fifty yet, I have had the personality of an old man for most of my adult life, so I've got that down.

I also have down the constant complaining, the tendency towards cheapness, the varicose veins, the salty attitude toward most children and my predeliction for "old man bars."

I guess if you consider these stereotypes of old men to be true and that age is a relative thing, I, in many ways, have been an old man for some time now.

Now, if those damned kids would turn that music and let me watch Andy Rooney in peace...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The One Where He Explains Himself (On Some Level)

Is this a retraction? Not really.

Am I pulling the old "I didn't mean it, I was drunk?" No, that is the lamest excuse ever. I am a firm believer in the proposition that you don't say anything drunk that you don't believe anyway...booze just lets things out.

What I am doing is wondering if my word choice was appropriate. Mysogyny was not really the correct term.

What is, you ask? Well...

Let's just say that what you all had confirmed is that I am an opinionated, frustrated, conflicted drunkard. You all know that by now, right?

I don't hate anyone...I am just not sure what to think about certain things.

When it comes down to it, furthermore, aren't we all like that on some level?

Thank you for your continued support. Goodness knows I need it.

The One Where Will Confirms His Mysogyny

So, I went to my local tavern tonight, what of it?

One thing that all people need to notice is the real masters of the situation....the bartenders.
At this place, they are simply the argument needed...they refill my Scotch glass with such frequency that it becomes, thanks all of you.

As for the hatred of women, what else could I do? I have been done over by so many women that it sucks. Really and truly.

It is good that I have decided that I never shall marry...perhaps for the best.

To all of you who say that "well, Will will come arpund," I say PISS OFF.

For my next trick, I'll need a voulnteer...

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Well, he done gone and did it. Barry Bonds has surpassed Henry "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron as the all-time home run king.

As a life-long baseball fan and something of a student of the game, what to think?

As for if it was going to happen, I never had any doubts. I perhaps thought that Bonds might (at the far, far end) might retire amidst the controversy that makes me so ambivalent about this accomplishment.

Whenever such a record is surpassed, it is a notable day for the sport in question, and for baseball, yesterday was no different. What I could not help but notice was that this story was about fifth in the network and PBS newscasts...whatever goes on in baseball, the rest of the mostly cruel joke of modern life goes on I guess.

On one level, I must say "bully" to Mr. Bonds, if for nothing else, for being here to do it. That was no easy record to break (even if it took the equivalent of lying to Congress to do it), and well, good for you.

Then there is the other level, where I feel indignant about the achievement of a true athlete like Hank Aaron being topped by a suspected steroid fiend like Barry Bonds and I get pissed off. "How dare he," I and countless others say. Hell, even Bud Selig phoned in his congrats. What the hell message does that send?

What it says is that, as Charles Barkley has always been trying to tell us, athletes are not role models nor should they be construed as such. They are people doing a job for large (almost inconceivable) amounts of money and what they do in their personal lives is none of the public's business and even less of a reason to admire these people.

But, wait, Bonds is suspected of reaching these heights through breaking the rules, so what then? Well, I guess he will end up like the greats Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, having all of his records with an asterisk next to them that explains the extraneous circumstances surrounding his feats of prowess. Fate worse than death? Hardly...he did really hit all of those homers, whatever strange chemical cocktail was coursing through his veins at the time.

Will he ever be stripped of these records and refused entry to Cooperstown? I suppose only time will tell on this one, but Pete Rose only gambled on his team and look what happened to him. In our messed-up, Puritan based society, drug use outpaces even gambling in the hierarchy of moral turpitude. If you were to throw in some juicy stories about hookers on the road, well, that would only serve to sweeten the pot, wouldn't it?

Is there a larger lesson to be learned here? If there is, it is a fairly simple one and (to your horror, dear reader) it relates back to economics. It is a simple fact (pointed out by many economists for whom setting up incentive schemes is a favorite indoor sport) that given the right incentives, anyone will cheat. This fact is intensified in such high risk, high reward, high potential for failure worlds as professional athletics.

So, to Barry Bonds, congrats I guess, and if you did break any rules, shame on you. You will have to live with the dreaded asterisk. You will learn to do this.

The real question, then, is will WE learn to deal with it? CAN we? SHOULD we?

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Tourist At Home, A Resident Abroad

This past weekend, I played host to my family here in Madison. Forgoing the regular trek to Lake Geneva, WI, they decided that they would get their summer Wisconsin fix (something many people from Illinois need) by coming to Madison to visit me.

They arrived on Thursday and left yesterday afternoon and I have to say it was a great time made even better by the chance to be with my family. I guess that's how family is: it does not matter much where you are, just that you are together for some good time with each other.

I then got to thinking about exactly what it was that went on over the weekend. First, I considered the interesting position of trying to be a tourist in one's own town. I live here while they are just visitors. Would it suffice to follow my normal weekend routine? Of course not; I suspect that they would find that boring and wonder why the only thing to see in Madison is cheap restaurants and the insides of taverns.

So, in planning for their visit, I tried to think what would be fun for everyone, both as a group and as individuals that would keep all entertained while giving them a taste of the place where I live. A somewhat convoluted task, but I think that I did well enough. If they didn't have fun, they at least did not tell me that.

What decisions did I make? Well, we really didn't do anything that I had not done before or gone any places that I do not go at least somewhat regularly (except the farmer's goes on MUCH too early on Saturday for me to have been there at all). The hotel that they stayed in was even very near my house, although worlds apart where amenities are concerned (hotel: phone in pool area with direct link to room service, my place: well, there's a phone). It is one of the nicer hotels in town and a place that I all but recommended even though I had never stayed there nor did I know anyone who had.

Then it hit me. I guess that the difficulty with being a tourist at home begins with the fact that the traveler's presence is temporary while the resident's is permanent.

"No shit, really?" you are no doubt thinking to yourself.

Then I considered that while people who live in a fixed place (i.e. not nomads of some sort) have more time and a broader range of experience with which to interface with the world around them. There is a bunch of stuff that I know and have learned about Madison that would be of no use to someone just visiting for three days. I am sure it is the same for most people who have a permanent residence.

The traveler, on the other hand, gets only glimpses of the places that he or she visits. There is a noticeable lack of depth to these experiences. Does this extend to people who visit the same place over and over again? In a way, yes because there is always that knowledge that at some level, this experience is finite, will end and that this place is an outside place, part of my spatial experience but not at its core.

Do travelers ever get the depth of a single place that a resident gets? I suspect not because of this defining characteristic; the tourist leaves and the resident stays put. It is an extension of this to say that the tourist does not interface with the travel destination as much as he or she judges it against the place that they call "home," however this is construed.

So, to my opinion, there is no real point in seeking the "authentic" experience of a place as a traveler because your presence there is temporary. It takes the irrevocable knowledge that this is where I will be to spawn the process of forming an understanding of a place that is different.

Different, yes. Better? That is a matter of perspective.

Did I lure my family here to trick them into a falsely authentic experience of a place? No, I wanted them to come here to have a good time. Do most travelers understand this? Some do and some don't.

As long as a traveler understands that all his or her experiences away from home are fleeting and finite, that they have gained a certain sort of experience of a place that is different from a resident, then it is fine. What is not fine is taking a three day trip somewhere and then proclaiming that you know everything about the place.

I spent three days in Kentucky in October of 1997. I had a good time and learned a lot about a couple of things. Do I understand what it is to live there? Of course not.

None of this should stop people from travelling, if that makes them happy. What it should do is lead people to think in a different way about how we understand ideas like space and place, home and away as we journey across territory and through time.