Friday, May 29, 2015

Loo Review: Amtrak train 187, Quiet Car

Locomotion, which once staked a fair claim in building our country, is now a mode of transportation reduced largely to novelty. Lacking the efficacy of the airplane or the agency of the automobile, trains chug along, carrying an ever-dwindling number of passengers, their horns a cry of nostalgia for the halcyon days of America's nascency.

Anyways, I crapped in an Amtrak bathroom.

What trains lack in speed or competitive pricing models, they make up for in their relatively expansive commodes. Each is accorded the space of a standard handicap stall, a preposterously  indulgent allocation of real estate. Every train car offers two restrooms, a far more generous per capita ratio than that offered by the rapacious fucks of the airline industry, who would, but for the negative PR, happily march passengers through a trash compactor and have flight attendants stack the resultant flesh cubes in the holding bay of the plane. Though the extra room is of little practical value, the psychological effect is heartening. Here, it seems to suggest, is a place one can stretch one's legs, or pace while mulling conundrums philosophical. 

The space is well-lit without feeling clinical. Though a faint uric odor persists, it does not overwhelm the senses. The many identical bathrooms remove the urgency that normally accompanies the use of a public lavatory: taking one's time does not violate the social contract nor force one's co-travelers to crowd, wincing and irate, outside the door. Bashful eye contact with the next partaker is also, mercifully, spared. The lock is a firm, forceful mechanism that leaves no doubt as to the security of the space. The amenities are built tastefully into the walls, marrying form and function in a decidedly pragmatic union. And the train itself provides ample cover noise. It is an oasis, a panacea to the ills of grimy rest stops and Lilliputian comforts of airplane bathrooms.

Alas, the bathroom is not without flaws - it falls victim to the shortcomings inevitable in the attempt to mobilize plumbing. The toilet is dry, which results in the fruits of one's labor lying balefully uncovered. In drastic circumstances, looking at one's effluvia feels akin to gazing back at the wreck of Gommorah. Thankfully, the lid comes clanging down of its own accord, and the flusher is immediate. Also, while trains are not subject to immense turbulence, when one is at one's most vulnerable, a little can go a long way.

Nevertheless, in a world increasingly beset by profit margins and apathy, the bathroom in the quiet car of Amtrak train 187 provides welcome relief. As America plunges heedlessly toward the future, trains, and their bathrooms, are content to remain stationed in the charm and comfort of the past.

Grade: 4 out of 5 toilet paper rolls

Friday, May 8, 2015

It's Not About Cheating

The Wells Report, 243 exhaustive pages of investigation into infinitesimal air pressure changes, dropped today. The aim was to uncover whether the Patriots intentionally deflated footballs and whether Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were complicit in doing so. The report amounts to a novel-sized shaggy dog story, concluding in a supremely unsatisfying "probably," but really, the findings are immaterial. Any verdict that did not canonize Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as Roman Catholic saints would have generated the same result: waves of histrionic moralizing from sports columnists defending The Integrity Of The Game, breaking on the usual bulwark of hair-splitting rebuttals and persecution complexes from Patriots' fans.

Better writers have already skewered the lunacy of devoting millions of dollars to what could reasonably be considered the smallest of the league's problems. And the general arguments - "Everybody does it;" "a history of cheating" - are being marshaled with a weary sort of resignation. This is the song-and-dance routine dragged out every time accusations of rule-breaking are levied against the Patriots. New England fans lament being targeted disproportionately for infractions that are practiced league-wide, and even the most strident critics can admit this is probably true. But the underlying cause for these witch hunts is not "jealousy," nor a nation-wide effort to discredit New England's accomplishments. There is no conspiracy to explain why the Patriots perennially find themselves under the microscope. It's much simpler than that.

It's because the Patriots are assholes.

Bill Belichick is not a man given to sentiment. His almost-perfect 2007 season featured Brady and Randy Moss routinely running up the score, attempting fourth-down conversions and throwing the ball late in the fourth quarter against hapless opponents. He is openly contemptuous of the media, with none of Marshawn Lynch's on-field highlights to compensate for his disdain. Even his players, who vouch for his off-camera personality, understand that they are only commodities of depreciating value in his eyes. In a league where every coach is scrapping furiously for the smallest advantages, Belichick's reputation for being calculating and obsessed with winning is not easily come by. His ruthlessness and graceless does not endear him to former players, journalists, or the teams he embarrasses on the field.

Similarly, the NFL's rulebook is a Gordian knot of subarticles and clauses, and its ambiguity is blood in the water to Belichick. He lives for grey areas, and no other coach is half so adept at exploiting the shortcomings and intricacies of the rules. He orchestrated a masterful strategy of jamming the Greatest Show on Turf and Peyton Manning's Colts at the line of scrimmage.  He included a healthy Tom Brady on the league-mandated weekly injury report for three years straight, though the quarterback played 127 straight games in that span. (In one of karma's more capricious fits of malice, Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the very next game after his removal from the list). In the most recent playoffs, he took advantage of Baltimore's inexperienced cornerbacks by running complicated schemes where receivers lined up as offensive linemen, and vice-versa. None of these practices were illegal, but all three resulted in rule changes to rub out the practice in the future. In a league where other coaches race to adapt to the rulebook, it often seems like the rulebook is racing to adapt to Belichick. In this, he is thumbing his nose at the shield, exposing its foibles and flaws in full view of a televised audience. He may be right to do so, but it stands to reason that this gamesmanship would draw the ire of a commissioner desperate to preserve the appearance of competence.

Though he is the avatar for the Patriots' condescending attitude toward the rest of the league, Belichick is by no means the only culprit. Owner Robert Kraft, a man beloved exclusively by his circle of lackeys and the average Joes who schlep out weekly to Foxboro, saw fit to weigh in on domestic violence following Ray Rice's suspension. His stern condemnation was somewhat undermined by both his employment of a murderer, and his cheerful fraternization with well-documented abusers. Tom Brady, beneficiary of one controversial rule and namesake to another, has become the poster-child for the type of tacit advantages accorded to high-profile quarterbacks. Even Gronk, innocuous and playful, carries a miasma of frat-boy privilege.

But for all this, the Patriots still might weather these controversies without so much fanfare. Where they truly blunder is in their defense of their actions. Simply by denying the claims made against them, the Patriots invite extra scrutiny. Yes, it is true that all teams cheat. The Patriots are exceptional in their futile attempts to protect their reputation. Kraft & co. cling to "The Patriot Way," a risible, extinct code of conduct that somehow distinguishes the Patriots from the common brutes shuffling through the rest of the league. In order to prop up this mythical standard, it is not enough that transgressions are endured - they must be exculpated. This too brings attention to the Patriot's door - a preacher's misdeeds are far more interesting than a drunk's.  If they chose merely to accept or ignore the accusations, they would fade into obscurity. As evidence, one needs look no further than the Superbowl, in which the Patriots "probably" committed a second, much more palpable infraction that received much less attention.

Julian Edelman, hero of the game, likely endured a concussion following a brutal hit from Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. Though it came to light that he was eventually cleared (by a sideline concussion test regarded as a farce), he did not leave the field to be examined until after the offense had scored a touchdown (a series in which he was instrumental). Surely Edelman, who should have been removed immediately for testing, provided a larger advantage for the Patriots than a slightly flabby football. Yet Edelman and Belichick defused any larger controversy by remaining staunchly mum on the subject. As is usual, a rule was changed, but the media remained silent.

By trampling over teams, discarding players at the first whiff of decline, snubbing the media, scoffing in the face of the league, and foolishly proclaiming their innocence, the Patriots have left themselves without allies. And as long as they continue to run roughshod over their detractors, their detractors will continue to take savage, vindictive pleasure in finding fault with the Patriots' accomplishments. Yes, every team cheats. But not every team is a dick about it.

P.S. Sorry about not using images but I don't want to do it without properly attributing them and I don't know how to do that.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

An Open Letter to Young Me

Dear Young Mickey,

Hi, it’s you, which is to say me, but older. Wait, don’t call the cops yet. I have to drop some knowledge on you. We say “drop some knowledge” nowadays and when someone says it it’s insanely cool.

The year that I’m living in is kind of fucked up (yeah, we curse now, and it rules); I won’t go into specifics for time-paradox reasons, but suffice it to say that it’s common practice to write navel-gazing introspective thought-pieces for free. Since I assume you won’t go find a dictionary, navel-gazing means to like uhh think too much about yourself. And thought pieces are just bad essays. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. A lot of celebrities get asked to give advice to their younger selves, which, like, why, right? Why would they change their timelines? They’re celebrities. So I’m gonna do the same for you, by which I mean me. Get ready for some truth nuggets (that’s another ridiculously cool phrase that cool people say).

First: take some risks. I don’t mean drugs. I mean like pull your freaking calf socks down. Bees are not going to sting your legs. And if they do it’s not a big deal, dude. Bees are not that scary. They’re a fraction of your size. You can’t wear sweatpants all summer. Risks you should take include not leaving the room when Scar comes onscreen in the Lion King and eating pierogies the first time mom makes them.

Second: Keep playing the piano. It sucks now because your teachers are old-ass Russians that hate fun, but if you stick it out it is the bomb; that’s uhh that’s not slang people use today I’m just trying to relate. Anyway in grown-up world piano players are cool and Magic: The Gathering is a bad punchline.

Third: call people up. Literally everyone is miserable for a chunk of middle school and sometimes high school. The popular kids are just you projecting your insecurities onto other dweebs. If you call up your friends and say “do you want to go to a movie” they will say yes. Except once, in 10th grade, when you invite people to see Alien Versus Predator at Towson Commons. No one will show up then. Go anyway: I want to use that movie in bar trivia. But yeah don’t spend your Friday nights reading dead baby jokes on the internet. Those are extremely bad.

Fourth: write down the passwords to our LiveJournal and Myspace and also don’t make either of those things.

Fifth: Keep your ego in check. This isn’t a huge thing for us but I can imagine you reading this and getting smug because alternate-timeline you, which is to say alternate-timeline me, is like way ahead of his time maturity-wise. Wow dude you think you’re better than me because you’re able to use my hindsight to better your (my) life? Fuck you dude. I will fucking end you. I won’t actually, for time-paradox reasons, but guess what smart guy? Some of my earlier advice was actually bad. Or was it? Ahahaha there’s no way for you to know. What are you gonna do about it chump? By the time you’re my age I’ll be way older and I’ll probably know jiu jitsu.

Sixth: don’t learn jiu jitsu in order to defeat me (you) when our alternate timelines finally sync up. Or actually go for it, anything you learn I’ll know too. Or maybe not. Look, this is getting exhausting.

All right you (me), I hope this stuff helps guide you a little better through your maturation. I’d write more but there’s a big yellow-jacket on my window and I can’t tell if it’s inside or not. I gotta go.

Catch you on the flipside (that’s a Simpsons reference: last advice is stop watching the simpsons after season 12),

Old Mickey

5 Stages of Building a Fire

1. Denial
OK, a few more pieces of rolled-up newspaper and we should be good to go. No Eagle Scout skills needed here, thanks, David; why don’t you go find us a log to sit on? Mickey has the fire situation on lock. First the tinder (kindling?) catches, then the kindling (tinder? underbrush?) catches, then the… big sticks. Then it’s s’more time! Hey Alison, let me cook your marshmallow for you; yeah it gets super chilly out here, come get closer to the fire. MY fire. The match I tossed in the middle is just biding its time. That’s how fires work. The longer it takes for the flames to appear, the bigger they end up. Maybe a breath or two, down real low, that ember touches that leaf, the inexorable chain reaction becomes a wild elemental dance. Why, yes Alison, I do think fire is entrancing! Sorry about the wet log, David’s idea, haha. Here, you can sit on my lap if you want. Just a few more breaths. Just one more match right by the… kindling? Flint? I can feel your eyes watching me, David; maybe use your Eagle Scout skills and whittle yourself a clue: I got this.

2. Anger
Why. WHY? Cavemen could do this without matches! No, David, I didn’t use the “cabin method” or the “teepee method,” what is this, feng shui? I used the “this stuff is flammable let’s light it on fire” method. Why aren’t you burning? People light stuff on fire by accident all the time; why is it so much harder to do it on purpose? Smoke? HOW CAN THERE BE SMOKE AND NO FIRE. That’s like, the conservation of matter, isn’t it? It’s the rules of who goes first in checkers. Yes, David, there’s plenty of kindling. It’s right by the… nexus. C’mon, little sticks. Catch. Catch! Haha, yeah, no worries Alison, just a few more seconds. Catch!

3. Bargaining
Please. I’ll do anything. Just please start burning. Do you want my shirt? I’ll flap my shirt until my arms fall off. I’ll kill Smokey the Bear, he’s your enemy, right? I promise I’ll never take fire for granted if you just light up. I’ll offer David the dry log. Do… do you want gasoline? Tie me to a mountain and let an eagle eat my liver every day, just please let me make s’mores with Alison and let David get poison ivy in the middle of his back.

4. Depression
Nothing matters. No, I will not put my shirt back on, David, I am sweaty from blowing on unresponsive sticks. Apparently that can happen. No, Alison, I wouldn’t like any bug spray. The mosquitos deserve my blood more than I do. I’m going to go find a s’more stick. I hope I get eaten by a bear. At least there’s fire in hell.

5. Acceptance
Good job, David. Yes, please pass the marshmallows. No, I don’t mind this wet log. You two look comfy over there. We all have our roles to play. David can be the fire guy. I’m more of an ideas man. In fact, I think I may go to sleep soon. We better get up early if I’m gonna show you guys how to catch a fish.