Monday, March 30, 2009

Why I Keep Coming Back.

I'm not sure what my first memory is. When it comes to chronologically ordering events in my life, especially those of my early life, I'm fairly bad at it. Ask me how a local sports team did in 1996-or even 1986-and odds are I can tell you, but ask me what year I first kissed a girl....and well, I remember who and where, but I'd have to do some heavy mental math to figure out what year it was. It's just the way my brain is wired, for better or worse. That said, there may very well be earlier memories for me....but among my first memories was my mother taking me to a local rec center to meet a few members of the Texas Rangers. Somewhere at my Dad's house theres still both a framed picture of the 1988 Texas Rangers as well as a Tony the Tiger baseball (redeemed, no doubt, from many a bowl of Frosted Flakes), each with three signatures on it....those of Chad Kreuter, Scott Fletcher, and Jeff Kunkel.

Now obviously somewhere previous to that I was wired to love Rangers baseball (why else would I have wanted to go meet them? or have been so excited by it?), but I remember that picture and that signed baseball....and how they were my most precious possessions for many years of my life. I didn't care that Chad Kreuter, Scott Fletcher, and Jeff Kunkel were spares...they were baseball players, and Rangers at that, and thus worth of idol status to me. And buried next to that 1988 Texas Rangers team photograph, I'm sure sits a 1989 one....a picture I remember spending hours looking at as a child. For in my mind, that 1989 team was a magical was the team that would shape so much of my youth, and who's players I can still recite like gospel.

John Barfield (his name had barf in it!), Kevin Brown, Charlie Hough, Jamie Moyer (still playing), Kenny Rogers (still playing), Bobby Witt, Nolan Ryan (like everyone else, my childhood hero), Jim Sundberg, Geno Petralli, Steve Buechele (boooooooooooo.....), Julio Franco, Rafael Palmeiro, Dean Palmer, Juan Gonzalez, Cecil Espy, Ruben Sierra, Pete Incaviglia, Sammy Sosa (who wouldnt actually be relevant for another decade), Harold Baines, Buddy Bell. Those are the names of my youth, and to this day those names take me back in time to my childhood.

And it is with those names and that childish glee, that I find myself with less than a week until baseball season starts getting giddy at the fact that its almost here. Nevermind that the Rangers have been good, well, never or that we all know that this will be just another in the lifelong series of disappointing seasons. They will be bad, and by May 1 I'm sure I will be frustrated, and yet every night there I'll be....tuned in to another lousy game in a lousy season of lousy Rangers baseball, it's the ultimate lifelong 5 car pileup on the freeway you just can't seem to take your eyes off of.

The spirits of those players and the childhood memories, every year about this time, they come flooding back. And I find myself sucked back in.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Trip To Beaumont, TX.

It all started as a bit of a joke. A friend and I are sitting at beautiful Lucky Lou's in Denton, TX. six or nine months ago, as we had so many other nights. He had recently gotten his MBA from North Texas (hey, an MBA is an MBA, right?) and couldn't find a job outside of meager debt collection, which he'd been doing through graduate school. The job market just wasn't there, and he was rightfully frustrated by it. So we're sitting there, and the conversation goes a little something like this;

Friend: So I got a job offer finally, i mean it kind of sucks, but the
money's good...

Me: Oh? What is it?

F: It's for Conn's. Executive in training. Good money, thing, I'd have to move to Beaumont.....

Me: Where the fuck is Beaumont?

F: Outside Houston. It sucks, but I'd only have to do it for a year and
then I could move somewhere else.

M: That sucks man, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Just get a strippers n' blow fund started.

F: Huh?

M: Dude, you're going to be a well paid executive in Beaumont freaking Texas. What else are you going to spend your money on?

F: Point taken.

M: Tell you what, you get that started, and I'll drive down there and
visit, help you spend it.

And thus was the birth of the Strippers n' Blow jar [note: blow is just a euphemism for excess, there was no actual cocaine consumed]. Friend moved down to Beaumont in early December and has been there ever since saving money and only getting one weekend a month off. A few weeks ago he calls me, says he has a weekend off in March and the jar is getting full, and I should come down there. Meanwhile I'd just gotten a new car (who doesn't want to break in a new car with a road trip), so I decide what the hell-sure man, see you in a few weeks.

So friday afternoon I head down there. I'm expecting a 6-7 hour drive (truth is it was just 5 and some change), and honestly it was a fairly scenic drive. Bluebonnets everywhere, not a lot of traffic until Houston, it's really not a bad drive at all. Before I continue, let me make one small confession. I don't think I've been south of the Trinity River (i guess Arlington technically is, but you get the idea) since a river trip to Austin with my then girlfriend some 4-5 years ago. In fact, if you take Austin/San Antonio out of the equation, I'm not sure I've been south of the Trinity River since I was a child. My only memories were of obscene humidity and oppressive heat, and that combined with no actual reason to go south of the Trinity other than Austin (Shreveport is East, everything else worth going to is North), has kept me where I've been.

Truth is, Central and even Southeast Texas wasn't that bad. I mean sure, Houston is still an homage to strange smells, humidity, and urban sprawl of the highest order, but the changes in the geography from prairie to pseudo-hill country to forests to the coast is a pretty cool thing to see. Each town individually may be fairly forgettable, but as a composite there's something unique about rural Texas-sure the giant statue of Sam Houston is excessive, as is the World Capitol of Jerky, but part of me wishes I'd had a little more time and stopped in these small towns to absorb that rural Texas I've never really known. Sure they're a little over-religious for my tastes (there must've been dozens of pro-life billboards I saw during the trip) and ya, they might embrace the white trash ethos more than one would think healthy, but at the same time from the pseudo-cosmopolitan confines of Dallas it's almost like going to another country, it's a culture entirely foreign to me. I used to make occasional jaunt to Stephenville (damnit, I guess that's south of the Trinity too) with an ex-girlfriend to visit her family, and while that was an experience, many of the towns between Dallas and Houston make Stephenville look like a hotbed of culture.

Anyway, friday night I finally get down there...have a fairly skunky Dos Equis, and we head to this place called Madisons [side note, the name Madison seems to be a theme in SETEX, and I'm curious why that is] which had some awesome crab nachos (much better than they sound) and a Golden Tee machine before we headed over to the Vortex, the local Rockabilly/Punk Club. Cheap drinks, fairly cool scene (still can't figure out why they had a ping pong table though....), but a music venue you couldn't smoke in....something so absurdly foreign to me. It took me 45m to figure out why the place smelled like ass, until I lit a cigarette and was told I had to go outside...then it all made sense. And so from there to a pool hall, the lone bar in the city in which you could smoke. Capped the night off with whisky and 'Army of Darkness'. Good times.

Friend's couch sucks, i mean this thing was terrible, so I woke up slightly hungover, tired, and wanting waffles Saturday morning, so I loudly wake his ass up and we hit the IHOP before deciding to find a beach. There are three things I wanted out of this trip; a beach, seafood, and strippers. Beer is a given. We follow the not terribly informative signs until we finally end up in some place called High Island that has a beach. And by beach I mean sandy area with lots of rocks, shells, and jellyfish...but it had sand, and the water was nice enough. Had a few beers, managed to break my toe on a rock, and on the way back realize we'd both gotten way too much sun to muster the energy to head to Lake Charles and their casinos (I was jonesing for that damned Top Gun slot machine that's my bane), settling instead for a Hooters (where we were asked if we were gay....not that there's anything wrong with that....) with not one, but two pregnant Hooters girls, and then booting/rallying and watching 'Coming To America' whilst re-hydrating.

And then its back out, for a bar or two and then strip club. Let me just say this, the first place we drove by was a place called Tonga. It was a fabricated metal shed with a simple neon sign saying Tonga. That's it. It's a BYOB strip club, and from asking the townsfolk, its the worst place on earth. This would be a much better entry if I'd been but I must be honest, I said heeeeeelllllll no. So we went to the "upscale" one, the Gold Club. And I will admit, it really wasn't a bad place. Actually looked like a real club, good lucking women, bad '80s cock rock sound track, and while you had to go to a patio to smoke, I fought through it. I was really hoping to write about how terrible the strip clubs were in Beaumont, and had I gone to Tonga I probably could have, but the Gold Club....not so bad. We had a good time-boozed it up, cabbed it home, and had a nice Cracker Barrel breakfast before I started the long drive back to Big D. All in all, Beaumont's really not that bad a town. So that's my story.

But of course, thats not all. I decided to use twitter for this entire trip. As mentioned in this entry, I've been struggling for any actual use for the cultural phenomenon that has become, twitter (my username is /superfuzzbigmuf). And other than NFL news updates and local news updates, I've yet to really find one that the rest of teh intertubes can't give me. So I thought I'd twitter my trip. It probably adds nothing, but was worth a try, so in is my trip to Beaumont in snippets of 140 words or less. Cheers;

corsicana. turkey jerky and spree. and peed. from mobile web

lost ticket signal. listening to the rentals. from mobile web

kind of wish i was hungry so i could see if texas burger is any good. from mobile web

centerville, tx. how could i not stop at a place calling itself jerky
capital of the world? from mobile web

honestly thought the prison in Huntsville would be larger. from mobile web

wow, black guy riding a horse next to highway outside New Waverly, TX from mobile web

why does Houston need warning signs about potential ice on bridges? from mobile web

wow, the trinity river actually looks like a river down here. from mobile web

theres something cool about listening to patsy cline driving through rural
texas. from mobile web

in beaumont, first beer of many in hand. from mobile web

crab meat nachos = awesome from mobile web

better than ezra! why did i exclamate that? from mobile web

jameson and shiner at a rockabilly dive bar. good times. from mobile web

beaumont, tx: epicenter of cosmopolitan living? from mobile web

my name is ash, and i am a slave. from mobile web

awake. not regretting army of darkness. want waffles. from mobile web

port of beaumont kind of reminds me of season 2 of the wire. from mobile web

riding dirty in Beaumont jamming to lisa loeb. now *thats* gay. from mobile web

mission accomplished. i have now peed in the gulf of mexico. from mobile web

had a 40z of Bud Ice on beach. Poured last of it to my dead homies. .4 PM Mar 21st from mobile web

there are not one, but two, pregnant hooters girls at the Beaumont Hooters.
Stay classy. from mobile web

beaumont strip club? amazingly not that bad. saw much worse in arlington. from mobile web

so ya, broke my toe earlier at the beach. i just havent been able to feel
it. nice and swollen now. from mobile web

isnt breaking any news here, but 'Stepbrothers' was pretty damn funny. from mobile web

lol, walker texas lawyer billboard. from mobile web

Aaaaaaaaand, fin.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Great Analogy

It seems that the discussion is continuing regarding the Stewart vs. Cramer feud from last week, a feud that began with Jon Stewart calling out Rick Santelli's rant (which not surprisingly, was championed by the far right) in which he called out home-owners for taking bad mortgages and neglects to blame the banks and brokers that provided the bad loans. As I'm sure you know by now, Cramer fights back and a feud broke out between the two men which culminated with Cramer coming on Stewart's "The Daily Show" last thursday, which if you haven't seen is available here unedited, which is important since the actual broadcast of the appearance was pretty heavily edited.

Now let me preface this by saying that I enjoy the work of both men. I find Jim Cramer to be quite entertaining on Mad Money, and I find that you don't need a degree from the London School of Economics to follow his logic, its an investment show for the every-man and I enjoy it. Likewise, I think Jon Stewart is simply brilliant and his comedic analysis of the day's news is strangely better than anything CNN, FNC, or even CNBC are pumping out in my humble opinion. I like the work of both men, and don't have a dog in this fight.

But it was quite obvious from the get-go that Stewart was going to win this battle, as Cramer looked oddly sheepish at times, and the pundits almost universally agree that the "victor" was Jon Stewart. And while this is all well and good, I think it overshadows the message of what Stewart was actually trying to get at, mainly that CNBC should feel some responsibility to actually investigate what has been going on and instead of cheerleading the boom market, maybe look for the signs that things are about to go south and warn people.

I think it's an interesting discussion. CNBC is a privately owned cable television network, so what is their obligation to the public? It can't be any more or less than that of Comedy Central, which brings us public services such as "A Roast To Larry The Cable Guy" and monthly airings of PCU. And while I believe that The Daily Show is in fact a public service, Comedy Central doesn't air it for that reason-they air it because it makes them money. Likewise for CNBC and 'Mad Money.' Now is it dishonest the way they position and advertise Mad Money? I think it is, but this reminds me of the Jon Stewart vs. Tucker Carlson blow up from 2004 in which Stewart criticizes the program 'Crossfire' for encouraging partisan hackery (true) and the media at large for throwing softball questions at politicians (also true) but when confronted with his doing the same hides behind the fact that he does a comedy show, which is true, but you can't question what CNN/FNC do when you do the same thing....its likewise disingenuous. While it may be a comedy show, Stewart and The Daily Show have emerged as an important part of the public sphere, as assinine as that sounds.

Which leads us to the analogy I led off with. I earlier heard Bob Sturm make the analogy that this is akin to the baseball writers neglecting to report that the players were doing steroids, despite how obvious it was to them, and then when it finally does come out turning around and blaming everyone but themselves. I think the analogy is dead on.

A writer is either employed by the club (especially here in the .com era) or relies heavily on the club or MLB at large to provide them access to the players, to the locker room, and to the ballpark. If a writer gets blackballed and can't get a player interview or worse-can't go to the games-then that writer will quickly find himself unemployed. Thus despite how obvious it was the writers, especially being in the clubhouse, that steroids were running rampant in baseball for the latter half of the '80s, the entirety of the '90s, and the first part of the '00s the writers remained mum until it became such a story that they didn't have to fear for their jobs (remember how Jose Canseco was ostracized for telling the truth?). Likewise with "the media" you've got writers/anchors/talking heads employed by huge conglomerates with their financial fingers in all sorts of pies, and those companies would most likely frown on someone reporting that this entire bull market was little but a house of cards. So until the shit hit the proverbial fan and the reporters had no choice but to report on it, everyone remained mum and cheerled the unprecedented economic boom which would surely never bust. And it is for this reason, that I find myself siding with Stewart.

I don't believe that CNBC has an "obligation" be the watchdog the Federal regulators failed so badly at being, but I do think people should walk away from this economic disaster and know that CNBC-and the media at large-played a very large role in turning a blind eye to the underbelly of the economic house of cards, and remember that. I love Jim Cramer, but if you're putting all your financial eggs in the basket of a guy that throws plastic toys at the screen, hits sound effects, and considers himself the president of "Cramerica" then perhaps you deserve what you're getting. Mad Money is a great starting point, no doubt, but its just that and should be followed with due diligence.

I refuse to believe that with the sheer number of "economic experts" in this country, from the cast of CNBC down to your broker, that no one saw this coming. People did and were refused a platform to get the message out (it wouldve most likely fallen on deaf ears anyway, to be fair), and those whom could have actually been heard (and taken seriously) just got too caught up in the boom market to address reality. It was inevitable, in retrospect, but that doesn't mean that we can't learn lessons from it-and actually try to remember them when the next bull market occurs.