Monday, July 8, 2013

The Little Things in Life

Long weekends usually bring into the foreground the things we enjoy most: rest, fun, good food, family and friends, quiet Blackberries. The inevitable conclusion of long weekends then pushes those things into the...well, background, I suppose. Not really sure why I was looking for a different word there.

But really, life comes down to little things, doesn't it? There are, of course, times when legendariness and epicness and stupendousness are needed, but mostly, I find that small things can add up to make what would be an ordinary day a good one (conversely, small things can also add up to make what would be a great day a crappy one, but that'll be another entry).

For instance:


Properly spiced Doritos

Anyone who's ever eaten a bag of Doritos knows that they are a decidedly un-American snack; they are not all created equal. Many don't have nearly enough flavor; some have way too much. But every so often – sometimes only a handful of times per bag – you get the chip that's perfectly spiced. Not too salty, not too bland...golden.

Observe!


These two chips may as well be different foods, as far as I'm concerned.


Pens that work on first contact

Even as someone whose very livelihood depends on writing, I find that actually writing by hand is something I don't do a whole lot. Most lawyering – like most other jobs now – is done at the computer. Which makes scenes like this all the more amusingly inaccurate:


What's most inaccurate isn't the fact that a guy who didn't go to law school somehow faked a Harvard degree and landed a job as a lawyer at a prestigious firm, or that the firm's paralegal just happens to look like a model from Deal or No Deal, or even that the two of them appear to be, umm, telling secrets into each other's mouths in their firm's library.

No, what's most inaccurate is that they were in the library at all. To do research on a case. From my experience, this is what doing research on a case looks like:


Except without all the smiling.

Anyway, the fact that pen usage has dropped so much ironically places even more importance on the quality of the pen. I feel like the biggest difference between a good and bad pen is how much time is needed to warm up the ink, that is, how much time you need to spend doing this before you can actually start writing:


Bad pens always make you do that even if you've just been using it. So when you finally find a pen that works without first making you turn your desk calendar into a sad Jackson Pollock imitation, you hold on to that pen and never let it go.


Subways that come on time

I suppose this one doesn't much apply to me anymore, what with me being a full-time Angeleno once again. But walking down the steps to the subway platform and seeing this:


Instead of this:


Always made me want to do this:



Two-ply toilet paper


Yes indeed.

--
*For a more substantive look at this issue of happiness and our pursuit of it, check out Time Magazine's recent cover story – an excellent read and well worth the newsstand price, for any non-subscribers out there.

**If you require more legendariness/epicness/stupendousness to smile, click here, here, here, here, and/or here. You're welcome.

Monday, October 22, 2012

(Slightly Strange) Sights from Europe

I recently spent three weeks trekking around Europe. Emphasis on trekking – one of my knees is still screaming at me for all the stairclimbing/hiking/wandering/kimchi-squatting-while-waiting-for-trains I did. And emphasis on Europe. Before I left, I imagined that this trip would be kinda like going to an ethnic area of LA or NYC except for a much longer time and with different money.

(Okay not quite, but still, it's a land of white people! Many of whom speak English! Baguettes and pastries and pasta and wine! That sounds almost American.)

But of course, Europe ended up being pretty...European. By which I just mean that it was more foreign than I'd expected. I consistently ran across things that made me look twice and consider whether I would ever see that in America, whether it was unusually clever, whether it was surprising due to cultural differences, or whether it made any damn sense at all.

Ever the astute traveler, I took photos of some of these things and now present them to you, in six easily digestible categories:

I: The Kate Middleton Category, aka Europe is Classier than Everyone

I'm not sure if it's the accents, the history, the architecture, or me just buying into Europeans' own haughtiness, but every once in a while I just get this sense that Europe (at least the western portion of it) is classier than the rest of the world.

Sometimes this can be seen in their tableware:

Handmade olive dishes with separate compartments for the pits and toothpicks. Brilliant!

And sometimes this can be seen in their McDonald's:

McCafé is actually a café?

Complete with the classiest cookie of them all – the macaron.

II: The Ozzy Osbourne Category, aka Europe is Definitely NOT Classier than Everyone

Then again, that classy European aura could just be an illusion.

Yikes. "Euro Disney" actually just appears to be a hodgepodge of characters that definitely do not look officially licensed.

Wouldn't you base your Titanic attraction on the James Cameron movie?

French people think they're so classy.

Who exactly is the target audience for these shirts?

British propaganda during WWII. The next time a girl mentions how sexy a British accent is, I'll reply, "Yeah, but they were just as sexist as everyone else back in the 1940s!" Score.

III: The Story of My Life Category, aka I Just Don't Get It

Sometimes, the Euro-confusion rises above the level of cultural or language barriers.


That bright blue ice cream is SCHTROUMPH flavor, or French for "Smurf." I mean, I understand that it's a pretty accurate recreation of the color of a Smurf's face:


But that provides zero indication of what it tastes like! Who would do this?! That's like naming vanilla ice cream "Beige Khakis" or Neapolitan "3/5 of the Power Rangers." I suppose if I were to ever catch a Smurf and make an ice cream based on its natural flavorings I'd get a pretty good idea, but I'm not good at Smurf-catching or ice cream-making, so that's out of the question.

Then there's this:

This was outside of a restroom – pardon me, a W.C. Aren't these symbols generally used to depict whether men or women are to use a particular room? What does this mean?

These next two are pieces of art, apparently:



The top one is a Picasso sketch. The bottom one appears to be a photocopy of a weather report from a USA Today. I don't understand how either of them ended up in an art museum.

Moving on:

Ahh just your typical PSA. Apparently Monaco wishes you to have safe sex. Or love the whole world...by having safe sex? Or wrap the globe in a condom. 

If you saw this mural in a restaurant, you might think, "Oh that's so nice. It really gives this place a quaint, rustic feel. Nicely done!"

But what if the restaurant was right next to this? And there was veal on the menu? At the very least it makes you think twice, no?

Prince Charles' portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, London. I imagine this is similar to official White House photos of presidents. If so, why the heck does he look so...wimpy? There's more gate than prince here. You can almost hear me thinking, "C'mon man, you can do better than this" in my reflection.

IV: The This Needs to Happen More Often Category, aka I DO Get It

Sometimes, things are easy to understand because they're accompanied by a picture that's universally understood:

Snails = slow! I get what they're saying! It also helps that this sign is in English. But wait...does this mean the food comes out slowly or that the food was slow back when it was in living animal form? Hmm...maybe this belongs in Category III. Let's think through this: if the sign had said "Fast Food" and had a picture of a cheetah, I'd assume that meant that the service was fast, not that I would be eating a cheetah or some other fast animal. Or maybe it would mean that I'd be eating Cheetohs.... Ohh I don't know.

Other times, foreign countries use English in huge letters and make life easier for us American tourists:

Alright this one I get for sure. Game! For a game store! As to why it isn't plural, when there is clearly more than one game in the store...

Maybe it's an imperative. Like this place.

Step-by-step illustrated instructions help too:


V: The Last Decent M. Night Shymalan Movie Category, aka Signs

How do you make a mundane street sign less mundane? By making it art:



Or maybe by just making it less mundane:

This is a real sign in the Vatican; you see it on the way to the Sistine Chapel. This is at once redundant, overly animated, confusing, and hilarious.

Or maybe by making it very ambiguous:

We were looking for a restaurant. We came across this. Maybe it would be an outdoor restaurant, which would've been sweet. Maybe it would be a lawn chair exhibit, which would've been SUPER sweet.

It didn't surprise me that I couldn't always understand signs in Spain, France, or Italy – my Spanish is limited and rusty and I don't speak French or Italian (much to the chagrin of French and Italian people). But it did surprise me that I was sometimes stumped by signs in England. Sometimes, British English ≠ American English.

Weather report in the underground headquarters from which Winston Churchill and his team directed Britain's efforts during WWII. I feel like there's a lot of room for interpretation here. Top hat or no?

Maybe British people are just super concise (and polite) when it comes to their signs. Like this one. Wouldn't the switch always be turned off if this sign always remained up? Maybe more details are necessary here.

And maybe LESS details are necessary here. WHY are there so many words for this contraption that everyone knows how to use? Push the button and wait for the green man – works the same way in every country.

VI: The Kumbaya Category, aka We're all the Same

Still, at the end of the day, there were more similarities than differences no matter what country I found myself in and what language I found myself struggling to understand.

Like randomly themed bars in unlikely places:

Barcelona.

Like internet memes on t-shirts:

Barcelona.
Like signs that allude to Jason Mraz album covers:

Carcassonne.

Like rich people blowing their money on expensive sports cars:

Monaco.

'Twas fun. But the real world beckons. Ciao!

Friday, April 20, 2012

New blog!

This one's not going away, but for (hopefully) a unique/thoughtful/not-ESPNish take on sports, head over to sportswatchtower.wordpress.com. Happy reading!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sports Analysis: Kinda Racist?

If you watch sports and listen closely to the analysis, you'll notice that players are always described a certain way; they fall into categories. Some players are "freakishly athletic" while others have "a high basketball/football/etc. IQ." Others are "gifted" while others "work as hard as anybody."

At first, the idea that certain things might come more easily to certain people doesn't seem all that controversial, especially when it comes to feats of athleticism. I used to be an elementary school teacher, and it didn't take much to notice that some kids could just naturally run faster and jump higher than others.

And yet.

Sports analysts seem to have a hard time hurdling the race issue in their assessment of players. Here's what I mean.

Ex. 1: Dirk Nowitzki, Adam Morrison, Jimmer Fredette, and/or any white guy in the NBA who can score even a little.

What do Dirk, Ammo, and Jimmer all have in common, other than the color of their skin?

The correct answer is: (1) not a whole lot; and (2) they're always compared to this guy:

Celtics great Larry Bird, archetype of the successful white NBA player.

Why? Why?! Is it not because they're kinda slow-footed white dudes who, notwithstanding their height, don't look like they belong in a league that's more than 80 percent black? The actual playing styles, demeanors, accomplishments, and ceilings for the three players above are all wildly different, yet they're all compared to Larry Bird.

On the plus side, this means that when I achieve my childhood dream and become the shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers, I'm going to be compared to former Dodger pitcher and Korean hero Chan Ho Park.

Some people might not view a comparison to an ultimately mediocre and overpaid player as a plus, but those people don't realize that this is the first picture that comes up when you run a Google Image Search for "chan ho park":

JUMPING SIDEKICK OF DEATH. AZN PRIDE.

Now all I need to do is learn how to hit, field, run, and throw at a major league level. I'd also probably need to grow four inches taller, add 30 pounds of muscle, and learn how to take steroids without getting caught. Easy.

Ex. 2: Team Japan in the Little League World Series, Team China in the Olympics, and/or any East Asian country competing against non-East Asian countries.

The Little League World Series is completely effed up. What seemingly started out as a fun idea – "Hey let's have a worldwide tournament for Little Leaguers and televise it! It'll be fun and a great experience for the kids!" – has morphed into something resembling child exploitation.

But it's hard to avoid watching at least part of it if you watch ESPN at all. When it gets going, it really gets going. They even bring in former Major League players as commentators. Hardcore.

And when you do watch it, you notice two things. First, Team Japan is always really good. And second, if you believe the analysts, they're always really good because of their "discipline."

Japan: known for sushi, electronics, and under-12-year-old baseball players.

The amount of time the commentators spend talking about the team's discipline borders on ridiculous: they note how the team doesn't talk when the coach is talking (honestly, how many players actually talk while the coach is talking?) or how much the kids seem to know their "roles" (in baseball, I'd say your role is pretty well-defined: you're either pitching, hitting, or patrolling a certain area waiting to catch something). I half-expect them to throw in the terms "filial piety" and "Confucian values" during the broadcast.

How about this? Japan is a country that loves baseball and produces talented baseball players. Sometimes, their teams win.

No...that doesn't seem right. It's definitely the discipline. When Korea played Japan in the World Baseball Classic, the sheer amount of discipline in the game was straight-up mind-blowing.

Ichiro. So good disciplined.

Ex. 3: Michael Vick, Cam Newton, Vince Young, and/or any black quarterback with some athleticism.

It seems like every year, there's a quarterback who is supposed to revolutionize the position because – wait for it – he's a dual threat. He can throw AND run!

Let's set aside for a moment the fact that it's damn near impossible to "revolutionize" the QB position in the NFL, where a QB's success largely depends on whether he can drop back in the pocket and accurately throw to the right receiver. Have you noticed that these supposed revolutionaries are all African American?

No one mentions that the most successful scrambling quarterback ever was Steve Young, a white guy who played college ball at BYU, of all places. And no one really mentions in the same breath the most obvious QB who does as much with his legs as his arm: Mr. Tim Tebow.

Tebow running for his life. Seems about right.

Just to cement my point – this was part of an actual scouting report of JaMarcus Russell:

"Could be a Daunte Culpepper or Donavan McNabb-type quarterback."

Seriously?

Daunte Culpepper.

Donovan McNabb.

JaMarcus Russell.

Does the fact that they're all black automatically make the analysis racist? No. But when you consider that these three actually don't have that much in common, I think the analysis is, at the very least, lazy.

Ex. 4: Edward Han.

People watch me play sports and frequently use phrases like, "At least he's trying hard," or "Not bad for a 5'9" Asian boy with no hops and a history of ankle/back problems, but pretty bad by basically any other measure," or "No no, he's on your team," or "He really sucks." I think this is racist.

On my butt. Common position for me when boarding.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Underrated

There are some things in this world that are simply underrated – they don't get the credit/recognition they deserve.  This entry is dedicated to those things.  May it be a humble start to a world of proper ratedness.

(5) Meatballs on pizza

I start here because this completely baffles me.  Not only are meatballs delicious, but they seem pretty Italian – you see meatballs in spaghetti all the time.  How come you don't see them offered as pizza toppings more often?  Someone evil must have decided to skip over meatballs to go straight to black olives and anchovies when thinking of the goodness that should go on the canvas of pizza.  This makes me sad.

This is so beautiful.
(4) Andy Roddick

Poor Andy Roddick (I use the term "poor" very loosely here).


Anyone who semi-regularly follows tennis has surely heard about the dearth of American talent at the top of the sport for quite a while now.  Tennis fans, perhaps accustomed to the dominance of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors in the 70's and 80's, and then Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi and Jim Courier in the 90's, have been clamoring for the Next American Tennis Hope since Roddick was a kid.

All he's done to live up to those expectations is win a major, win 29 other titles on the pro tour, earn nearly $20 million in tournament prize money, hold the world No. 1 ranking, reach the finals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open four times (losing each time only to maybe the greatest player ever to step foot on a tennis court), and spend the vast majority of his career ranked among the top five or 10 players in the world.

To put this in perspective, consider that there are 30 teams in the NBA, meaning 150 basketball players are starters.  So if you're considered among the top five or 10 basketball players in the world, you're landing magazine covers, playing in All-Star games, and getting mentioned in Jay-Z songs.

Roddick, on the other hand, has to answer questions about why he 'only' accomplished as much as he did.  Isn't his career a pretty successful one?  I have a hard time even imagining what it would be like to be among the five or 10 best in the world at anything.  I kinda feel sorry for the guy, and then I remember that he wakes up to this woman every morning, and I think he'll be alright:

If you wake up and see this next to you (the woman, not the magazine), your day is off to a fantastic start, head-to-head record against Roger Federer be damned.

(3) Breakfast burritos

I cannot figure out why breakfast burritos have not caught on more.  I think they should be at least as widespread as bagel sandwiches.  What's not to love?  It's deliciousness wrapped up for you.

Weekend Wrap at the Black Cow Cafe in Montrose, CA.
Order it.  Eat it.  Thank me later.

(2) The Postal Service

I realize that the USPS is going through a rough stretch and that not too long from now, it could very well be chillin' with the dodo bird, woolly mammoth, and Friendster.  But for a long time, civil servants dedicated themselves to ensuring that we could communicate with one another effectively.  Sometimes I still marvel at the fact that I can drop something into a bright blue box on a street corner and have it arrive somewhere across the country within a matter of days.  And then I think about the fact that once upon a time, I could have dropped something off and had some man on a horse carry it across the country for me and I realize that yes, the USPS was and remains pretty gangsta.

I think I would have made sure to write very, very meaningful letters if they were carried by the Pony Express.

(1) Seat warmers in cars 

Anyone who has spent time living in a place that gets snow and ice recognizes the clutchness of seat warmers.  They get warmer faster than the heater, and thus significantly cut down on that period of time where you're suffering in your car while waiting for the engine to warm up.  And I don't know why, but having a warm butt really makes a big difference.

Warm butt = warm all over.  It's the truth.