Growing Old Instead of Dying Young

“I’m youth, I’m joy…. I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.” ~ J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

I’ve always fancied myself as a person with Peter Pan Syndrome, someone who never wants to grow up. After all, who wants to see and play in this world through the eyes of an adult? As a result, I’ve often confused growing up and growing old to be the same thing. Consequently, I always thought I wouldn’t live to see an old age. If youth was a candle, I thought the only way to live with a young soul was to let it burn all the time even if that meant it flamed out early.  It’s not that I welcomed death, but I thought it was the price one paid for having a youthful outlook on life. As Hamlet said, “the readiness is all.” and I accepted that. We don’t know when our days will end, so all we can do is be ready for that moment.

Then, I had the chance to marry this beautiful woman right here.marriage-photos

And slowly “the readiness” began to dissolve, like sugar in iced tea. She taught me to love the trench work, the day-to-day wars of adult life. And I started to look forward to long work days because each day proved something about myself and created something of worth. I thought I could feel the Peter Pan in me starting to become overshadowed by the adult world. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it felt like growing up.

Then a few days ago, I met this little guy.dante-photos

And “the readiness” vanished. Simultaneously, the youth in me was reinvigorated, After staring into those eyes, my imagination worked like it hadn’t in years, nay decades. I imagined, running after Durante (Dante for short!) around the house. Watching him play with the dogs. Teaching him how to dribble a basketball, even consoling him after his first loss, and his first broken heart. I wondered what he dreamed about while he slept. I find myself making baby noises as I hold him, and being content just stare at him for hours on end, watching him figure out how his mouth works, making faces old and young at the same time.

This time my youthful nature seemed fortified by something different: maturity. I can feel myself ready to do the hard work necessary to raise a child. Long days, short nights, slower times. I realized that my candle has a youthful wick encased by mature wax. Hopefully, the perfect blend to raise Dante.

This feeling reminds me of the song, “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young”, by Erich Church. I first heard the song, years after being married. While I can’t fully identify with the speaker in the song, I can definitely identify with his sentiments towards death: we both thought we were ready for it to come at anytime until love taught us otherwise.

Give the song a listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzK_03Eu6xk

Church most commonly plays the song with a semi-hollow body electric guitar (sometimes a Gibson model, sometimes a Gretsch. He’s using a Gretsch in this video). It is an excellent choice, capturing the bite of youth with the warmth of maturity. The solo, which starts around the 2:28 mark in the music video, perfectly captures the gentle flutters of youth. Some might think the solo is too short, but Church masterfully keeps it tight, mirroring the maturity the speaker feels in the song.

I’m pairing this song, and this new feeling called fatherhood with this barrel-aged gem: Melange A’ Trois, which means a blend of three(fitting for our new family!), from Nebraska Brewing Company.  This beer is a Belgian-Style Blonde Ale aged in for six months in Chardonnay barrels. This beer has an orange-golden hue, as if you put an orange creamsicle in a lava lamp. The nose of the barrel-aged beer is slightly sour with a hint of Belgian yeast, but mostly you smell the mineral, sweetness you’d associate with champagne. The taste starts out like a traditional Belgian Golden, light, tart, and slightly sour. Then the beer quickly moves to full-on champagne flavor and effervescence. The beer finishes nicely with hints of oak from the barrels it was aged in.dante-blog-beer

Since the beer is aged, it has the maturity Church croons about in his ballad, as well as the maturity necessary for fatherhood, but the beer’s bright flavors remind us that without a youthful outlook, parenthood, and life in general, would be bleak.

I’m always going to want enjoy a cold one, but maybe now, I’ll have one less than I’d used to. Here’s to our son, our new journey, and feeling young forever.

 

Cheers. Prost. Salud.

 

Kleos vs. Nike: Understanding LeBron’s career through the lens of Michael Jordan

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” ~Confucius

LeBron has recently made comments about the state of his team, suggesting that the Cavaliers, as currently constructed, do not have the means to win another title. While some people, including the always derisive Charles Barkley, have suggested that Lebron should quit whining and just compete with the team he has, I’ve found his honest remarks refreshing.

To review his comments, click here: http://ballislife.com/lebron-says-its-been-a-sy-2017-the-cavs-need-a-fg-playmaker-after-latest-loss/

For the folks that found his comments, not only sulky, but offensive to the spirit of competition and basketball, you’re missing the entire point of LeBron James and his career. He loves basketball, and he loves glory, but he doesn’t necessarily love competing.

This paradox is a strange, uncomfortable, and uncharted place for the greatest talent the game has ever seen to be in.

As spectators of sports and former athletes, we’re used to competition being the driving force of playing the game, or at the very least, that playing and competing are inextricably linked. Competition helps us measure ourselves, understand ourselves,  and understand the world around us. Competition gives us a safe place to let out our primal tendencies and safe place to fail.

But LeBron James isn’t super interested in victory or competition; he’s obsessed with Kleos, or the Greek term for glory. Glory and victory might seem synonymous, but they are very different. According to lore, the Greeks were so interested in Kleos, or their name living on, that were willing to die for it. They would complete heroic deeds, but not for the sake of competition or to taste victory, but because they understood that it was necessary in order for others to sing their praises.

In this regard, LeBron is more like an ancient Greek hero than a Modern-day American one. More on the Modern-day American Hero later.

While LeBron loves playing basketball, his eyes have always gazed upon a loftier prizes thant NBA Championships. LeBron wants to be a global icon and a billionaire, a person that people regardless of class, race, culture, geography, and sports savvy will remember for years after he’s passed away. He once said, “The first time I stepped on an NBA court, I became a businessman.” For him, basketball is just the avenue to achieve his macro-goals.

For more proof of LeBron’s quest for Kleos beyond hoops, check out this very recent article from ESPN: http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/18686205/the-second-chapter-lebron-james-career

LeBron is the most talented basketball player we’ve ever seen. When he plays, his brand of ball is both ballet and brute strength, unselfish perfect passes and relentless drives to the hoop. He is the player basketball fans always wanted: there were no holes in his anatomy, no holes in his game, and he could play every position on the court. Spectators froth at the mouth when he touches the ball. But for LeBron this praise and fandom has never been enough because he hadn’t won a championship, so in order to get the glory he demanded, he created his own super-team in Miami even if it meant becoming a villain. When his title chances seemed to be drying up, he decided to come home and become a hero again. Two unprecedented moves for a player in his prime. Because of these moves and other entrepreneurial decisions, one can’t help but feel he changed the way NBA competition happens and how to obtain on-court glory. LeBron seemed to always be asking: What can the game do for me?

To fully understand any argument, it can not happen in a vacuum but within context, so the best way to understand LeBron is through the lens of America’s most famous sports hero: Michael Jordan.

Michael Jordan loves basketball. He loved the game so much, he had a “for the love of the game” clause in his contract, stipulating he could play basketball anywhere, anytime he wanted. While several top players take games off to rest (a practice I believe in), Jordan would not play NBA basketball unless he was granted this incredibly rare clause in his contract. But while Jordan loved playing basketball, he loved  competing more. He loved Nike, or the Greek word for victory. He built his career, and Kleos of being the G.O.A.T. by being the most ruthless competitor of all time. That’s not to say that Jordan wasn’t a savvy business man, capitalizing on his on-court success, but that was never his primary focus. Victory was. By taking a micro-view, and focusing on competition rather than glory, he built his legacy, brick- by-brick, the way most people would hope they’d focus on their goals.

For examples of his legendary competitiveness, check this out: http://thechive.com/2014/08/05/18-insane-examples-of-michael-jordans-competitive-nature-20-photos/

Remarkably enough, Jordan is also the once-in-a-generation talent, and once in-a-lifetime competitor, who also had an underdog origin story. An idea that probably seems almost unbelievable now. Part of the Jordan mythos is that he was cut from his high school varsity team as a sophomore. Furthering his legend, when Michael Jordan hit the game-winning shot to lead the University of North Carolina to a National Championship, he wasn’t even regarded as the team’s best player. That honor went to James Worthy. Even fellow teammate Sam Perkins was arguably a better player at the time. All in all, that Tarheel team had 12 of its 14 players drafted by NBA teams.

Jordan continued to be an underdog throughout the beginning of his NBA career. It was widely accepted that no player would ever be better than Larry Bird or Magic Johnson until Jordan forced minds to reconsider. People thought you couldn’t win a title with a shooting guard being your best player. Jordan proved critics wrong six times over.

For these reasons, the love for victory and the underdog mentality, Jordan has embodied the American Action hero. No matter the daunting odds, Jordan seemed to come into every situation like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJ7z5CUsrbk 

In that way, Jordan’s accomplishments demanded glory. After all, to the victors go the spoils. LeBron tried to obtain glory the other way around.

LeBron’s rise to fame was far less subtle and gave him no wiggle room as an underdog. He was anointed the “Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated during his junior year of high school.In high school, LeBron was already friends with Jay-Z and several NBA basketball players.

Check it out! http://www.si.com/vault/2002/02/18/318739/ahead-of-his-class-ohio-high-school-junior-lebron-james-is-so-good-that-hes-already-being-mentioned-as-the-heir-to-air-jordan

Then, he joined forces with Wade and Bosh in Miami, in order to assure he’d win at least one title, and the Jordan comparisons slowed. When LeBron lost to a Spurs team in 2014, all Jordan comparisons silenced. LeBron had been given every edge to succeed: superior physique and athleticism, supremely talented teams, and an easier path to the finals in the Eastern Conference. While Jordan had to go through historically great teams, like: Bird’s Celtics, Ewing’s Knicks, Reggie’s Pacers, and Isiah’s Pistons just to make it to the Finals.

LeBron knew his brand, and thus Kleos, had taken an unsalvageable blow. So LeBron, being the businessman that he is, regrouped and re-branded. He had to answer the following question: If I can’t have a résumé that is greater than Jordan’s, how can I still obtain his level of glory? LeBron had to figure out a new angle. Enter his move back to Cleveland.

LeBron had one Ace-in-the-hole left to play. Become a hometown hero. Bring a championship back to Cleveland, the first in 52 years, and you achieve something Jordan never did. In fact, Jordan is still desperately trying to win a championship for his hometown, but this time as an owner.

You see, LeBron knows his overall stats will be similar enough to Jordan’s to measure up in that regard. And most talking heads already neglect the context in which LeBron won his first two titles. LeBron knew this would happen. Years down the line, people don’t remember how championships were won, they just count how many were obtained. LeBron might never catch Jordan in the ring department, but winning a title for his home town, puts him on the Mt. Rushmore of basketball players. A permanent seat with Jordan and basketball immortality. In short, he obtained Kleos.

While these players took different paths, they will both inevitably reach the same destination. Some argue that LeBron’s path was easier. Others argue his path was innovative, one that has and will influence players in the future. Why couldn’t the path just be the necessary one for him to obtain what he really wanted all along? Glory by any means necessary. He’s not the basketball hero we wanted, but he might be the perfect basketball hero to represent this generation of fans in the most honest way.  And Maybe that’s why he’s been so hard to embrace. We want to be like Michael Jordan, but if most people are honest with themselves, they would’ve taken LeBron’s route. That’s a truth we’re not comfortable with.

I’m pairing this meditation on LeBron’s legacy with arguably the most popular beer from Karbach Brewing Company, the Hopadillo IPA, because of their similar story line. In Texas, Karbach was seen as the great hope of the Lone Star State. Karbach had a beer for every taste. From safer Hefeweizens and lagers to experimental sours, aggressive IPAs, and incredible barrel-aged beers. In it’s early five-year history, Karbach was on pace to become a heavyweight and a legend in the craft beer community. A company who made exceptional beer, grew in size and stature, and would throw a middle finger at big beer across the country while making them shiver at their incredible sales portfolio. In essence, they would earn Nike and Kleos the old-fashioned way.  lebron-blog-post

Then, on November 3, 2016, the owners of Karbach sold their company to the Darkside of breweries, Anheuser-Busch. It appears that Karbach was much more interested in kleos, than in grinding out victories and fighting the good fight against all odds.

The Hopadillo is a standard American IPA, brewed with German Magnum, Chinook, Amarillo, Citra, Simcoe, and East Kent Goldings hops. The nose offers a sweet, malty, and earthy mixture of hops. While the initial taste is bitter, earthy, and slightly dank, hitting most of hop characteristics, this beer finishes with a sweet, caramel backbone. The Hopadillo does leave a slightly sticky or resinous feel on the palate, but it certainly is not an off-putting amount. With the overall hop profile of the beer, mixed with a great but not overbearing malt backbone, paired with a relatively low ABV for an IPA (6.6%), and an incredible logo and name, this beer had the chance to be the Stone IPA of the South, but Karbach wanted to change the process and still keep the glory. It is an incredible go-to IPA if you want great beer and don’t care about the narrative, but if the path traveled matters just as much as the destination, as it seems to with people who discuss LeBron in the context of Jordan’s NBA, this beer might leave you somewhere south of satisfied, wishing for a beer that did it like Jordan.

Cheers! Prost! Salud!

 

2017 and Transcendentalism: Bon Iver and Beer

“We need the tonic of wildness… we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild… We can never have enough of nature.”  ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

Days after the inauguration of a new President, it doesn’t feel like any of the uproar surrounding the election has died down, or at the very least, become more nuanced and helpful. In fact, the opposite has happened. In order to block out the noise long enough to think and breath, I find myself spending more time outdoors, windows rolled down while I drive regardless of the temperature,  and in a transcendental(ism) state of mind.

In an attempt to escape the machine, I’ve found myself leaning towards music with the same rustic appeal. Enter music’s transcendentalist for the millennials: Bon Iver.

Justin Vernon, the artist behind Bon Iver, which means,  “Good Winter” in French, has been making music paying homage to nature and a more authentic human experience since his 2007 debut For Emma, Forever Ago. In 2007, an acoustic guitar and a slinky, velvety falsetto were enough to make listeners feel what it was like to be a winter leaf pressed in snow. But since then, winter has come, and the current nature of our society demands sounds that are more primal and raw to express human heartache.

On 22, A Million, Bon Iver embraced the chaos in nature and human nature by substituting acoustic guitar strums for clicks, pops, synthesizers, vocoders, and other layers of dissonance. Upon first listen, the album feels anti-folk, a distortion of nature, but there’s still an element of warmth emitted that crescendos as the album plays. Even on the A Capella song, “715 – CRΣΣKS”, a song in which the vocoder on the vocals is turned up so high, the lyrics are almost too cryptic to discern, there’s a level of honesty in his lament, “I remember something/That leaving wasn’t easing all that heaving in my vines/And as certain it is evening at is now is not the time”. It’s almost as if the truth within those words were so fragile, if they hadn’t been distorted (and thus protected) in some way, they would’ve never left Vernon’s mouth.

To listen to “715 – CRΣΣKS”, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_Fx1yq3A8M

My personal favorite song on the album is “8 (circle)”, a song that’s gospel-like delivery finds an artist in intense meditation and at the height of his craft. An artist, using every electronic trick in the book to help us better connect with nature and ourselves. When he croons, “What on earth is left to come?/Who’s agonized and gnawed through it all/I’m underneath your tongue.” It’s as if he’s speaking for us all. As the song progresses, electronic scratches and bursts  fill the sonic landscape, they same way scars fill wounds.

To listen to “8(circle)”, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPsBFPX_yU4

I’m pairing this complex album with a beer that is just as complex and seemingly jarring at first. Ranger Creek Brewery has a small batch series, and the 12th beer in that series is a Rye Saison with Brettanomyces (Brett for short), a yeast strain that creates sour flavors.  This beer was aged in white French Oak Barrels for 12 months with the Brett. The result is a beer that smells of pears and wild yeast with a golden orange hue. The beer is packed with contrasting flavors. At first you’re overwhelmed with the taste of sour pairs, honey, and spices. Then you are greeted by grass-like flavors and the Belgian funk most people think of when they drink saisons and other farmhouse ales. Finally, before the flavor fully fade away, there’s a subtle hint of oak. With the flavors present, one can almost picture drinking on a patio at a farmhouse, watching the sunset, and listening to “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” in the background as the guitar licks flicker in the background while Vernon asks the most pertinent question of our day, “Where are you gonna look for confirmation?” Where will we look indeed?

blog-post-small-batch-12

To listen to the entire album live, here’s a great version of the album put out by NRP: http://www.npr.org/event/music/506306492/bon-iver-live-in-concert

Clocking in at 34: 10, 22, A Million, feels almost like an electronic haiku. An expression of nature and humanity, bursting at the seams within every syllable. How fitting that in 2016 some of our greatest meditations on nature and humanity are works that explores those concepts by juxtaposing them with their polar opposite.  An electronic album like 22, A Million and a movie about aliens in Arrival are two Transcendental works in spirit if not in delivery.

Kudos to one of my best high school friends for inspiring this post: John Donovan. Here’s a picture of us after graduation in 2002.

john-donovan-and-me

Cheers! Prost! Salud!

Comfort Music for the Winter

“Comfort food is really anything you want at that time.” Geoffrey Zakarian

“I want comfort food!” my wife exclaims.

As a dutiful husband of a lovely woman who is seven and-a-half months pregnant, I leap into action.

“All right, Baby. What would you like? Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, stew, fried chicken?” I ask, trying to narrow down the choices.

After all, comfort food is a broad category. Already, I’m worried that the food won’t be the right temperature when I get home.  Comfort food is only good when it’s piping hot, and they’re aren’t a lot of places around our house serving meat loaf.

Laura pauses for a minute and says, “I want Thai food!”

I pause for a moment, and try to recall what she originally said. She did say she wanted comfort food, right?

“I’m sorry, Baby? What did you say you wanted?” patience oozes out of my mouth.

“I want Curry!” She states matter-of-factly.

I’m out the door and off to our favorite Thai restaurant, asking myself: Did my wife grow up in Asia? Is there a part of her life that I don’t know about? Does one of us have a gross misunderstanding of the definition of comfort food? If so, I’ll assume it’s me who is wrong. It’s the right thing to do when the wifey is pregnant.

This exchange got me thinking about not only how we define comfort food, but how to define comfort music.  I would assume that most people define comfort food as something that makes them feel good, reminds them of their childhood, and probably was something homemade by Mom or Dad. Which is why my wife’s categorization of Curry has comfort food perplexed me (I fact-checked this by asking my mother-in-law if they ate a lot of curry growing up. She assured me, they did not.).

Comfort music should probably be defined fairly similarly: music that makes you feel good, reminds you of your childhood, and was probably introduced to you by one of your parents. The artist that best fits that description for me is Eric Clapton.

I spent several Saturday afternoons listening to Clapton, usually while doing chores or while Dad made tortillas. The warm sounds of a record crackling as it plays “Layla” pepper my memories. For a pretty great live version, check this out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fX5USg8_1gA

Then, when I heard the unplugged version of “Layla” years later, I was floored. How could someone re-imagine the same song so differently? While the song has completely changed, it still captures the same anguish of an unrequited love that the first one so greatly articulates.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtxO1gwbHPQ

I didn’t know what it felt like to be in love when I first heard “Wonderful Tonight”, but that song taught me what it sounded like. The way the notes in the iconic riff melt into each other is the way days should melt into weeks and months should melt into years when you’re with someone you love. For a great live clip of that song, go here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUSzL2leaFM

I wish I could say that my guitar playing style is mostly based on Jimi Hendrix or Van Halen, but whether it’s acoustic or electric guitar, I have to give the nod to “Slowhand”.

I’m pairing my comfort artist with a beer reminiscent of my favorite comfort dessert: The Pecan Pie Porter brewed by Clown Shoes Beer Company. The Pecan flavor in this beer begins subtly, but as the beer warms it begins to shine through. There is also some added sweetness from honey malts used in the brewing process. The honey malt mimics the syrup of a pecan pie nicely. Notes of vanilla in the nose and finish balance out the beer. Much like Slowhand himself, this beer doesn’t have in-your-face flavors, but it’s subtleness stays with you, filling in the gaps inside you that you didn’t even know were there.

comfort-food-blog

So over the winter months, find your own comfort music or food and pour yourself a Pecan Pie Porter.

Cheers! Prosit! Salud!

 

An Existential Crisis While You’re Expecting

“A Man Said to the Universe” by Stephen Crane

A man said to the universe:

“Sir, I exist!”

“However,” replied the universe,

“The fact has not created in me

A sense of obligation.”

As most of you know, we’re expecting a little bundle of crazy, scary joy in February. (I’m very appreciative that baby Zorro decided to time his or her arrival in between the Super Bowl and the NBA playoffs. What a thoughtful baby!)  As that day  of colossal change rushes towards me, I find myself reflecting more and more on the world around me and what I will tell Zorro about it. My reflections started with the literature we’ve read in class. Perhaps that seems like a nerdy place to begin, or perhaps that seems like a fitting place. After all, what better place to begin your examination on what you’ll teach your child than what you already teach children? The most recent unit of study in our English IV AP class-Existentialism: The Search for Answers. In the unit, we read quite possibly my favorite piece of short fiction, “A Clean, Well-lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway. If you haven’t read it, here’s a link.

http://www.url-der.org/a_clean_well_lighted_place.pdf

And while that text moved me, the piece that stuck with me the longest from the unit was “Sisyphus’s Acceptance” by Stephen Dunn, which can be found here.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=41745

This poem isn’t a complex cornucopia of words, meant to whet the appetites of wordsmiths and literary nerds alike. If you’re familiar with the myth of Sisyphus, you should be just fine. And if you need a refresher, check this video out 🙂

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oc9XOxUcvLY

The poem became meaningful to me because of personal context. In a few short months, I’ll have a child that in a few short years will be asking “why?” very often. And while that first wave of whys will probably only probably cover simple childhood wonders like, “Why is the sky blue?”, wrapped up within that curiosity is the angsty adolescent question: “Why should I?” which is really sugar-coating (although the coating isn’t very sweet) the real question we all ask: “Why does it matter?”

Which brings me back to Sisyphus. Depending on your viewpoint, none of this world matters, right? We go to school from the age of five through the age of 22 to sit in class, earn good grades, and repeat the process. Then from the ages of 22-65, we get up to sit at work and earn good wages, and repeat the process, as if the fruits of yesterday’s labor weren’t harvested.  If we’re lucky, our lives go this smoothly, if not monotonously, but agents of chaos, such as illness, accidents, and company restructuring, agents that are out of our control, often meddle in our “best laid schemes.” All of the planning and hard work can be for nothing, and that’s not only uncomforting; if I think about it too long, it makes me very anxious.

When I zoom out to take a wide-angle, macro-look at our country, I can’t help but realize how much Sisyphus’s dilemma applies to our current political state. Depending on how you voted, you either feel pretty incredible about how our country has moved the boulder up the mountain, or you feel crushed by how far the boulder has tumbled back down towards you. One can feel delighted or defeated, or you can take solace or  take despair, knowing than in four or eight years, you’ll feel the exact opposite as you do right now when the political pendulum swings back in the opposite direction.

One great consolation of having a baby on the way is that I can’t get too wrapped up in partisan self-pity because I’m faced with perhaps the greatest Sisyphusian dilemma of them all: having and raising a child. Why should we bring another human being into the world when he or she will certainly face pain, setbacks, and disappointment and ultimately, death? It is absolutely absurd. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed with hopelessness, especially when the social and traditional media bombards us with misanthropic bleakness.

The reason to raise a child is simple: because I choose to have hope. It’s the same reason I haven’t given up on our political process, and it’s the same reason I get out of bed  and walk into a classroom every day. Because I choose to push the boulder up the existential hill.

In honor of hope, I’m going to pair this entry with an obvious, but probably little-known choice: A barley-wine from Real Ale Brewing Company called Sisyphus.  This beer, the color of sultry caramel with notes of toffee, plums, with a malty, dry finish. The nose, a seductive blend of pit fruit and… The brewers from Real Ale created the beer to honor and bemoan the laborious and monotonous process of brewing beer.sisyphus

It doesn’t matter that the Universe doesn’t have “a sense of obligation” towards me or any of us. I can still carve a little niche in this world out for me, and when the time comes, we’ll teach Zorro how to carve one out for himself or herself. Thanks to Sisyphus, I’ll have an answer for Zorro when he or she asks, “Why”? Now, to work on the “How?”

Note: Special Thanks to Andres Lopez, Sasha Jaramillo, and my English IV AP students for a”muse”ing this blog entry out of me.

Stranger Things: A Thrilling, Complex Companion

“Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.”

Werner Heisenberg, Across the Frontiers

 

Perhaps  it’s because I have a baby on the way, or perhaps it’s the time of year (football season, the month of October and Homecoming always get me reeling), but I’ve become more nostalgic lately. Nothing has quenched my thirst for childhood like the Netflix show, Stranger Things. It has been a breath of freshly familiar air. A show that is thrilling, terrifying, fun as hell, unapologetically in  love with the 80s (thus helping me obtain my nostalgia fix), and perhaps most importantly for me, it  has enough complexity to be considered art.

You see, for those of you who don’t know me very well, I think people who only eat at chain restaurants, lack imagination. I abhor people who only listen to top 40s hits and read nothing but cheap crime thrillers or romance novels. Don’t get me wrong. All of those escapes have their place. (Full disclosure: I have a strange place in my heart for romantic comedies and boy bands.) It’s great to completely unwind sometimes and allow the mind to “veg. Out” at night.  But all too often, my mind grows bored, catching the formula too soon, and I’m left searching for more.

The best part about Stranger Things is that the show has the perfect balance of both worlds: a viewer could completely engage and hunt for allusions to other 80s hits,r as well as deeper meaning, or he or she could just dive into scenes with shocking monsters, angsty teenagers, and relatively clueless adults (which the shows creators, the Duffer Brothers,  perfectly juxtapose on purpose!!!).

After all, who doesn’t relate to a mother struggling to understand her adolescent child, looking for anyway to communicate with him? Sure the show does this in an incredibly creative way, but the situations, and feelings it evokes are universal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kn2e-bIlmE

And who doesn’t love to see Eleven redefining gender roles in the most kick-ass way possible! Giver her the Eggos!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4tLWKj4n0

I’m pairing this incredible show with a beer that’s name and label are as wildly entertaining as the beer is complex. Sounds a lot like Stranger Things, doesn’t it? The beer is called the Blaecorn Unidgragon, and it is a Russian Imperial Stout brewed by Clown Shoes Beer Company. The beer is a malty, hoppy storm of complexity. The nose gives off hints of dark chocolate, pepper, and licorice. The taste brings on the same dark chocolate appeal, along with coffee, roasted malt, subtle smokey tones, and a nice hop bite to clean up the palette. The mouthfeel, while heavy and syrupy at first, finishes dry and thin.

Whether you’re watching Stranger Things for the first time, or rewatching it, the Blaecorn Unidragon will stand up to its thrills and complexity… a worthy partner indeed.

blog-post-stranger-thingsCheers! Prost!  Salud!

Zorro is coming: Some words on waiting for our baby to be born!

“It takes a whole village to raise a child.”~Igbo and Yoruba (Nigeria) Proverb

“It’s good to have a baby in the neighborhood again.” our neighbor Felix said upon hearing the news that my wife, Laura, is expecting. The next thing I know, our front yard was mowed and weeded. Now, that might be more an indictment of the state of our front yard than his joy to see a little one in the neighborhood, but my epiphany remains the same: I didn’t know that this kind of support could exist for two people.

And for those of you who know me well, let those words sink in: Laura and I are expecting our first child.

Apparently, nothing galvanizes people like new beginnings and hope. And nothing personifies new beginnings and hope more than a baby.

Parents and siblings are elated; great friends, who I hadn’t talked to in years, call or text to offer advice or support, former students have, perhaps more than anybody, shared overwhelming glee. Generally speaking, everyone we talk to offers to help in any way they can. It’s humbling. And it’s scary. It seems like everyone knows what to do or how to help except for me.

One of the reasons we waited to have children was because of our reservations on, well, everything… The world is a dangerous place that doesn’t make sense. How can we justify bringing an innocent life into the fray? With global warming where it is, where there even be a world left to welcome a baby into? What makes me, with all my flaws, worthy of raising a child?

Still, our colleagues, friends, and family seem to think we’re up to the challenge. People seem to throw around the statement, “You’re going to be great parents!” around all the time. But how do they know? Being a good person and being able to pass those traits on to someone else are two entirely different skill sets. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my nine years in education is that having a skill and being able to teach it are vastly different enterprises.

But maybe, just maybe with the support around us, we (okay, I’m really talking about me here) can create a good life for a new citizen of this planet. Then suddenly, almost miraculously, the fears and reservations are replaced with joy and overwhelming excitement when a blurry image popped up on a tiny screen.

Last week, I was able to “see” the baby for the first time. A sonogram is the most surreal experience, and perhaps even more stirring, was hearing a heartbeat. There are reasons why poets and authors have been iambic pentameter for hundreds of years as a means to express intense emotions.  The best part was watching Zorro (Our placeholder name for the baby since we’re waiting until his or her birth to discover the sex.) punch at the sonogram wand as we tried futilely to get a better view. We may not have gotten a great picture of Zorro’s face, but we were able to get a glimpse of a rambunctious personality in the making. I think Zorro is already taking after Laura, a no-holds-barred, I-do-what-I-want-just-watch-me personality, and I love it!

 

In honor of the incredible support we’ve received, I’m pairing this moment with the Mosaic IPA from Community Beer Company, located in Dallas, Tx. The beer has the hue of light coming through orange-stained glass, the color somewhere between burnt and vibrant orange. This IPA, while being hop-forward, is incredibly well-balanced with the addition of English crystal malt, giving the beer a slightly sweet, biscuity, sticky feel and flavor. The Mosaic hop, a fairly new hop strand, marries the two flavors that most hopheads really love into one entity. The hop flavor begins citrusy, with flavors of tangerine and passion fruit coming forth. Then, the piney notes kick in. The nose is malty with a hint of strawberries and banana, a true cornucopia of flavors, aromas, and colors.blog-post-6-mosiac-ipa

I don’t know what to expect. Sometimes, I’m terrified, but most of the time, I just can’t wait to meet Zorro! And, I’m always happy. I know, somewhere deep down, that with the support system around us, we’ll be just fine.

Cheers! Prost! Salud!

“Dark Necessities”: The Beast Within Us All

“Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.”
Mark Twain

 

I was a Freshmen in high school when the Red Hot Chili Peppers released the music video for “Scar Tissue”. Watching John Frusciante play that final solo while sitting in the back of a 1967 Pontiac Catalina as the sun sets in the Mojave Desert perfectly personified the feelings of angst and loneliness that everyone feels as they go through puberty. Or, at the very least, the feelings I felt. I immediately went into my bedroom and began learning the song, eyes closed, picturing myself riding away under the same sunset, hopefully to a place adolescent wounds would quickly become scar tissue. “With birds, I’ll share this lonely view” indeed.

To revisit that music video, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzJj5-lubeM

Since then, I’ve followed the career peaks and valleys RHCP religiously, devouring every album.

Seventeen years, four albums, and a guitar player later (I’ll save my thoughts on John Frusciante for another blog post), the Red Hot Chili Peppers have released another soulful single, arguably their most soulful since “Scar Tissue”. And just like any piece of art that is truly soulful, there are some unsettling elements.

The song begins with a RHCP trademark: Guitar and bass harmonize in a rhythm so tight, you forget you’re hearing two different instruments while Chad Smith builds a breakbeat, towing the line between funk and rock to flirtatious heights. The song immediately feels warmer than any Chili Peppers song since their 2002 album, By the Way, forcing us to let our guard down. Next, the piano riff and “wah” guitar swell, then give way to soaring harmonies in the chorus, invoking Stevie Wonder in his prime. Credit mastermind producer, Danger Mouse, for reinventing  their sound. Because of him, The Red Hot Chili Peppers sound relaxed, comfortable, and paradoxically energized as a bad entering the latter stages of their career.

While you can’t help but sing along to the chorus, don’t let the ear candy full you. Kiedis gives forewarning when he beckons, “You don’t know my mind/ you don’t know my kind/ dark necessities are part of my design.” Later, right around the 2:48 mark, as RHCP break into a dance-inducing bridge,  we almost believe that Keidis is selling us a fairy-tale ending. But longtime RHCP fans know, it’s never that innocent. During the bridge, Keidis concedes“darkness helps us all to shine”.  My adolescent self would’ve been intrigued and terrified at the same time.

I will never argue that Keidis is a brilliant lyricist, on par with Dylan, Lennon, Cash, or even contemporaries, like Boyd. He does, however, have a way of putting the icky mess, that is the natural human state into a song that you can sing and dance to. A spoonful of sugar… and all of that.

The “Dark Necessities” music video (or song for that matter) doesn’t reach the same catharsis as the “Scar Tissue” music video does because it shows the angst of youth all too literally. It does, though, hit some interesting playful, poignant and visceral notes.

Give the music video a listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0oIoR9mLwc

“Dark Necessities” calls for a beer with the same playful and deceptively dark attitude. Enter La Bestia from Ranger Creek Brewing Company brewed in San Antonio, Texas. This beer, a Belgian Dark Strong Ale, offers a complex nose of Belgian yeast and dark fruit, like plums and figs. The flavor takes awhile to fully build, just like the song it is paired with. Eventually, you should get rich notes of caramel, dark malt, honey, and the same fruits and Belgian yeast you smelled upon first meeting this brew.  La Bestia, smooth and very agreeable to wine drinkers, is also fairly high in ABV, clocking in at 9.5%. It is a beast indeed.

While the Red Hot Chili Peppers will probably never reach the soaring heights of the their career in the 90s, They’ll forever hold a place in my heart as the band that taught me it’s okay to have a dark streak. For those of you who like to live on the wild side, La Bestia will show you the same devilishly good time.

Cheers. Prost. Salud.

blog post 5. La Bestia

A Fan’s Farewell to his Hero, Tim Duncan

“Look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.” by Jacob Riis

The city of San Antonio is 298 years old, and some days, you can feel the heart and soul of this city speak to you as loud and clear as the sound of chisel meeting stone.

It’s a steady soul, steering its citizens at a blue-collar cadence, the rhythm of the stonecutter. Here, generations of people find quiet dignity in gritty, thankless jobs, priding themselves in a simpler life than those led by people in bigger metropolises. The soul of the city is stoically old school, taking shape in ancient architecture, like the Alamo, swelling in the sacred sounds of the Mariachi, satisfying tastebuds via the weekend-ritual: the breakfast taco.

The heart of the city, however, feels younger, freer, more vibrant. It’s a heart that beats to be heard, pulsing with blood that remains thirsty for competition. The heart of San Antonio isn’t content with the label of “second-rate city,” a rung below places like  New York City and Los Angeles. For proof of its heartbeat look at our Urban Renaissance: the Pearl Brewery, Southtown, and Five Points. San Antonio also has the heart of the stonecutter.

Perhaps these qualities seem contradictory, but they are quite complimentary, and their symbiosis is alluded to in Riis’s quote above.

While the quote emphasizes the steady soul the stonecutter needs, he also needs a life-source, a modicum that makes the soul tangible, pumping the passion necessary to keep chisel to rock even when he can not see the fruits of his labor.  Just like we can’t see the impact the chisel has on the rock from the surface; we can’t see that the pulsing heart of the stonecutter, the mechanism needed to set a steady soul on fire.

Which brings me to Tim Duncan.

In some ways, Tim Duncan was the perfect athlete to be tethered to this city. He has a steady, blue-collar soul that framed his body of work with a heart, burning for battle.

His heart demanded for him to be mentioned with the first-tier of NBA legends: Jordan, Russell, Magic, and Kareem. But his soul swallowed his ego, saving him from the beat-your-chest culture that engulfs today’s NBA. A heart and soul working in perfect harmony.

I don’t think Duncan or this city realized how closely we were welded together until the 2013 Finals.

In game 7, with less than a minute left, Duncan missed a running layup, and came back to play defense after he couldn’t secure the rebound, like he has countless times. But afterwards, he did something out of character. If there’s one thing I know from watching Duncan over the years is that he never wastes a single movement on the court. He knows the limitations of his body and his energy level, and he throttles between gears effortlessly to get the most out them. When he missed that layup, he came down on defense, slapped the floor and got into a defensive stance at the three-point line, frantically looking to stop anyone and everyone. Duncan never slaps the floor; he never gets into a defensive stance that close to the three-point line; and he never looks frantically for his defender.,

His face said it all, and then, in a moment of true vulnerability, he actually spoke about it afterward, stating, “Game 7 is always going to haunt me.” It was a rare time when Duncan would wear his heart on his sleeve, when his stoic soul couldn’t stymie what his heart yearned to say.

That series, for almost a year, would not just haunt Duncan. It would haunt all of San Antonio.

It was the first time I stopped believing in happy endings.

I can remember countless drives to work after that series, sitting at lights, my conscious slipping into the torturous terrain of “what if”. Inevitably, my thought process would go something like this: Man, I’m tired, and I really wish I wasn’t driving to work right now. This sucks. But it doesn’t suck as bad as losing to the Heat in the Finals. My whole life, I was taught that good guys can finish first, and hard work can pay off. In two games, my belief in that idea was shattered. What’s the point of going to work? It’s not like I can really change anything. Wow, this sucks. Let me drive off the closest bridge because nothing matters. Life is meaningless.

Finally and ironically in 2014, after an illustrious career, Tim Duncan came to a crossroads, the point on the x and y axis where the heart meets the soul. This dot on the axis: the origin of one’s legacy. In some ways, this city and its citizens came to that same crossroads with him.

You see, beating the Heat in the 2014 Finals was more than revenge. It validated a way of life. You can be successful, doing things the right way, sharing as a team, quietly, humbly. You don’t need to be the most skilled or most talented person to win. Grit and intelligence can prevail.

You don’t need to live in a ritzy, glitzy city to lead a life that matters or to have dignity. A blue-collar mentality with a passion for the work is enough.

Once again, I believed in happy endings.

Now on hard days, while driving to work, when I think about going back to bed instead of going into the classroom, I remember the 2014 championship and think: I’ve got to keep pounding the rock. And I’m healed.

The first time I saw Tim Duncan put on a Spurs uniform, I was 12 years old. I’m 32 now. Tim Duncan pounded the rock through my adolescence, my college years, hundreds of heartbreaks and triumphs, thousands of hellos and goodbyes, my wedding day, my adulthood.

Our lives are marked by milestones: marriage, moving, promotions, family additions, family subtractions, the once-in-a-lifetime vacation. But most years pass by fairly inconsequentially. That doesn’t mean that exceptional living didn’t happen; it just means if it weren’t for birthdays or New Year’s Day, we might never reflect and celebrate the day-in day-out accomplishments we achieve. Tim Duncan’s career was a lot like real life. Every time he stood on the court, he was doing something exceptional, something worth celebrating, but if the Spurs didn’t win a championship, it often went unnoticed by the media and those outside of San Antonio.

Tim Duncan personified how to live the right way. Trust in others, plan for the future, always try to improve, and above all, keep pounding the rock. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to call in sick, quit halfway through a workout, or grab takeout instead of cooking. But in those moments, I’d think of Tim Duncan planting his one good leg in the post no matter the score, and I’d say to myself, “Keep pounding the rock.”

And I’d persevere.

On July 11, 2016, Tim Duncan announced he wouldn’t keep pounding the rock because he couldn’t do it anymore.  After 19 seasons, 1,643 games, and five championships, his “good knee” finally cracked from the pounding it took. What happens to the stonecutter when his body faces the same fate as the stone he cut?  Something in me broke too, or at the very least, gave a little. For the first time since I was 12 years old, I’m going to have to figure out how to keep pounding the rock by myself. Tim Duncan won’t be there to show me anymore.

I’m pairing Tim Duncan’s legendary career with Midas Touch brewed by Dogfish Brewing Co. This hybrid beer was brewed with barley, grapes, honey, and saffron. Hops had not been widely cultivated at the time, so saffron was used as the bittering agent. The recipe comes from ingredients found in the drinking vessels from what some historians believe to be King Midas’s tomb. That’s right, the King with the “Golden Touch.” The drinking vessels are around 2,7000 years old. After the King’s death, his life and reign were celebrated by his subjects, with the remaining alcohol and food buried with his body to provide him sustenance in the afterlife. Biomolecular archaeologist, Dr. Patrick McGovern, was able to study the remnants and recreate the brew. The color is championship gold with a slight reddish hue from the saffron. The smell is of honey with light grass notes. The taste is a balance between honey and grapes, with the honey lingering on the taste buds, coating the palate. The mouthfeel, rich and velvety, carries the decadence necessary to honor royalty. What better way to celebrate a living legend than with beer made for larger-than-life royalty?

For more information on this beer visit: http://www.penn.museum/sites/biomoleculararchaeology/?page_id=143

For 19 years Tim Duncan personified the fiery heart and steady soul of San Antonio. When he beat teams from cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Miami on his way to titles, he didn’t just deliver championships. He gave us an identity. Finally, our “small town” with a tiny airport and only one major sports franchise belonged at the table with the major cities of this country. He made all of us champions. And he gave at least one boy from San Antonio, Texas, a reason to hold his head high and the blueprint for how to live life the right way.

I’ll never win a championship, and I’ll never be able to thank Tim Duncan enough for what he’s given me or for what he’s given this city, but if I can be the example for at least one other person to keep “pounding the rock,” that’s enough legacy for me.

And maybe, Tim Duncan could accept that as a token of my infinite gratitude.

Beer post 3.jpgCheers. Prost. Salud.

Summer Songs, Suds, and Skinny Jeans…

 

I never judge where I make new friends, find new music, or any other of life’s pleasant discoveries. I tend to let serendipity take its course. This week I was blown away by a new track at the clothing store, H&M. Okay, maybe you can judge me for that, but this wasn’t the typical pulsing E.D.M. soundtrack that makes you feel your brain feel like you’re stuck inside Candy Crush.

Allow me to frame the scenario.

While my wife auditioned new threads for her wardrobe. I perused the men’s section. For those of you who have never entered H&M, it is the type of clothing store that doesn’t carry loose fit or boot fit jeans. There is one size: skinny. Like twelve-year-old boy-who-hasn’t-gone-through-puberty-yet skinny.

I’d never tried on skinny jeans before. And now I know why. These pants fit me like someone tried to put eight ounces of toothpaste back into a seven-ounce tube. I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say getting out of those jeans was time-consuming and messy.

I placed a modern-day corset (At least this torture device is unisex. Yay, progress!) in the hands of my retail associate without making eye contact and with my tail between my legs. While I licked me wounds, my wife  laughed at me and continued to shop. When I had given up hope that this trip would be in any way redeeming for me, this song came on: “Shake it Loose” by Astronauts, etc. As the reverb-soaked guitars slithered in, my shame began to slither out. Shimmering, delicate downtempo funk melted on my musical palette. P.S. the rest of their first album, Mind Out Wandering, is pretty great too.

Immediately, I felt better, at least until my wife came out of the dressing room still laughing with a heap of clothes that fit her like joy fits a child. Her wardrobe passed the audition. My attempt to find a decent pair of jeans failed in the same dramatic, let-it-all-burn-to-the-ground fashion that finding a date to Homecoming junior year did. That, my friends, is a blog for another day.

I’m pairing “Shake it Loose” with Ballast Point’s Calico Amber Ale, or California Amber Ale. The label is a bit misleading because it’s a hybrid between an American amber ale, and an English ESB. The color is a reddish, amber color, with a nose that is surprisingly spicy and floral. The initial flavor is like a sweet, velvety biscuit, but the hops provide the perfect amount of balance and bite.

This song and this beer are perfect for setting up a comfortable evening. Whether you are starting the grill, heating up leftovers and watching Netflix, or putting on clothes to meet up friends for dinner (preferably jeans that don’t make you feel like cheese melting out of a fresh-pressed Panini.), this beer and song combination offer a great start to the evening. These selections aren’t anything too frantic or overpowering because no first song or beverage of an evening should be. The pairing is simple understated elegance—what every good weekend night should be.

Cheers. Prost. Salud.

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