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It’s Personal

I’ve been working for a political campaign in Indiana the past several months. While I had worked on campaigns before, and had experience working both in isolation and with very long hours, I admittedly struggled making the adjustments the first few weeks of the campaign. I remember discussing my situation with a friend who had worked campaigns in the past, asking for advice.

 

“Your problem is simple” he told me. “You’re going about this like it’s just business. You can’t function that way. It’s got to be personal.”

 

This was true. While I cared about the results of the race in an abstract way (I generally prefer Democratic congressional candidates to Republican ones, I highly dislike the Tea Party, the candidate’s political opinions were similar to my own, etc), I didn’t have particular emotional attachment to anything, or anybody. I had never lived in Northern Indiana before, or even been there. I didn’t like Notre Dame. My congressional district was dangerously close to Michigan, a state that I swore to despise my entire life. I was all business.

 

I had worked a few campaigns before, albeit not professionally. I worked a school levy campaign early in my college career, because the town was very near my own, I came from a family of educators, and I was desperately wanting legitimate work experience to shore up my feeble resume. I volunteered for the Obama campaign several times at OSU, not just because I believed in Obama’s policy positions, but because I deeply bought into the emotional aspects of the campaign…the idea of a responsible grown-up being in charge,  a campaign that spoke to our better selves, etc. Also, I had a crush on another volunteer. It wasn’t just business. It was personal.

 

Political staffers have to put up with a LOT. They work ridiculous hours, live in substandard housing, put up with daily humiliation, and for lousy wages. Volunteers do all of the same, but for free. You can do this for a little while “for business”, but in order to be successful, to stick around for the long haul, to actually WIN, it has to be personal on some level. I got to that point through personal relationships. Many of my coworkers were actual Hoosiers and have real connections to the specific issues. It got personal every time I saw a friend get taunted, or saw somebody I respected work longer and harder than me. The only reason to wake up in the morning and go to work was because it was about something bigger than a single election. It’s that way for anybody who actually follows politics.

 

I thought of all this while watching the Boston/Miami basketball game after work.

 

The game should be compelling on it’s own merits. It features one of the most storied sports franchises of any sport, and 7 of the best 20 or so basketball players in the game, including 2 of the most polarizing. I’m a fan of the game of basketball in it of itself, but the real reason I’m watching (and thoroughly enjoying myself)  is so I can unabashedly HATE on Lebron James.

 

Yeah, yeah, I’ve rehashed this all before. Sure, what Lebron did to Cleveland fans was scuzzy (it would be like me breaking up with a girlfriend by emailing her a sex tape of me and two other girls), but that was old news right? You can’t keep living in the past Matt! Don’t be an NBA Old Maid. Get excited for the JJ Hickson and Ramon Sessions show. SCREW THAT NOISE.

 

Hating on a guy makes you feel alive. It personalizes the game for you, and doubles your chances of reaching a sports euphoria (instead of just feeling good when the Cavs win, I can rejoice when the Heat lose). Richard Nixon hated his way all the way into the White House. Hulk Hogan hated his way into Professional Wrestling Fame. Hell, Darth Vader perfected the art of hating…letting it turn him into an intergalactic badass, storming the galaxy in his star-destroying ride. Fear leads to Anger. Anger leads to Hate….and Hate leads to force chokin’ fools without faith. Would Darth Vader be a badass without letting things get personal? No.

 

Also, yeah yeah I’m aware that SPOILER ALERT: Vader doesn’t win. And you know how the Rebels beat him? By letting it get personal! Han Solo doesn’t give two turds about a bunch of space koalas and a muppet…until he decides he wants to bang Princess Leia. Skywalker wasn’t REALLY plugged in properly until he discovered he was going against his dad. Do you think any of those guys would have frozen their asses off on Hoth for the money?? Because they had political policy differences with the empire? NO WAY.

 

Being a sports fan, like being really involved in politics, is hard work. The hours are long, the disappointments are unforgiving, and you sometimes even get humiliated. Casual fans stay because they like the sport, they enjoy a well-executed pick and roll, etc…but the “base” of the NBA is plugged in for something bigger…whether that’s civic pride, unadulterated hating, or adoration for what a particular player represents (Kevin Durrant is to basketball what Barack Obama is to politics). We project things unrelated to the sport on team or athletes. Maybe that isn’t fair. Maybe, ideally, it wouldn’t have to be that way. But it’s the way things are now…we compensate our athletes (and our politicians) for it, and I fully intend to run in that system.

 

Stepping it up a notch is what gets people through campaigns, or involved in politics at all. It’s what makes sports victories (or defeats) more than just balls bouncing. I enjoyed the game…but I was also not so secretly hoping that somehow, Darth Vader would force-choke Lebron James.

 

Sorry Bron. That’s more than business. It’s personal.

Every few months, I get this crazy idea into my head that I will go to a gym on a regular basis, lift heavy things, and create these mystical ab muscles that I read about in magazines. After the 2nd day at the gym, I look and feel AWESOME. I will strut around my apartment shirtless, showing off my new frame, as tiny muscles that had three month vacations make cameo appearances on my chest. Then I burp, everything vanishes, and all I am left with is joint pain and shame. Back to the drawing board. After a few months, my schedule will change, the gym will raise it’s rates, I’ll take some time off, and the process begins again.

 

 

I have a similar relationship with beards. The first stages of the beard growing process are easy. I have to admit, I think I look pretty good with two day stubble…I still look presentable to humankind, and as a bonus, no longer look like I’m 17. Then the beard gets a little thicker, and the texture of my face begins to resemble sandpaper. Under normal circumstances, after around day 4, I’ll begrudgingly shave.

 

After about day 5, I enter the dreaded second stage of the beard process. Without rhyme, reason, or respect to my genetic or ethnic background, I begin to sprout red hairs on my face. Individual facial hairs independently decide their length, color, and location, without regard for each other. My face begins to itch, and I *cannot* stop stroking my chin. When I walk down the street, bystanders look at me and shout “get a job!”, or give me their change.

 

Supposedly, after some indeterminate amount of time, one enters into the mystical stage three of the beard growing process, where the facial hair is uniform, with no patches to be found. History books are thick with men who found this bearded Nirvana. Abe Lincoln. Bob Ross. Robert E Lee. Al Gore. Gandalf. You get the picture.

 

I have never reached this stage. I have started the beard growing process several times in my life. I’ve tried it every time I’ve gone camping, when the Cavaliers are in the playoffs, and a few times during college in an ill-fated attempt to keep my face warm. I even tried it last April, until my students, parents and administration ruthlessly made fun of me. Every time, pride, social obligations, girlfriends, or this damn itchy-face syndrome forced me to abort my efforts and shave before I can climb the summit of Beard Mountain.

 

If I’m ever going to get there, now is the time right? I have a somewhat plausible excuse…the playoff beard superstition during the stretch run of a political campaign. I’m living in pretty much isolation here in rural Indiana, free from the disapproving looks of loved ones, or at least strangers I might see again. I may never get another chance to reach Beard Nirvana.

 

What’s the point? You might ask, especially since I don’t even look good with facial hair. Like a lot of guys, I pine for what I cannot have. I desperately want to be able to dunk. I disparage the city I live in, but as soon as I move, I miss it. I have a little crush on Grace Potter and Emily Deschanel. I somehow think the Cleveland Indians will be relevant again in the next five years.

 

I’ll never be able to grow a Jim Henson, even though I can sprout a five o’ clock shadow by 2:30, which of course means I have to try every few months. I’ll never be able to run a 3:10 marathon, and right now, can’t even come close to running a marathon *period*, but I still run 4-5 days a week. It isn’t about the beard, or the time, or whatever. It’s about the *process*. It’s about overcoming those pesky, unpleasant distractions towards a goal, no matter how ridiculous that goal might be.

 

And this is a ridiculous goal. Growing a beard won’t improve chances of winning an election (or winning a Stanley Cup, or whatever), and it is pretty unlikely my face is going to look good on Nov 3rd. But that isn’t the point…I’ll have set a goal for myself and met it, and I’ll finally know for myself if Beard Mountain, Beard Nirvana, Beard Bliss is real or meant for other faces.

 

Yeah, that’s it.

 

Damn my chin is itchy.

Like a lot of people my age, my first exposure to Solomon Burke’s music came from somebody other than Solomon Burke.

I was in 8th grade, trying to figure out those pesky self-identity questions that 13 year olds are wont to have. What was I going to be? My answer came while I was watching The Blues Brother with my dad. The film features excellent songs featuring the likes of James Brown, Cab Calloway and Ray Charles, but the best track in the movie doesn’t have any special musical guests. It’s right when Jake and Elwood finally show up at the concert, only to see the Illinois Police up in the rafters, and a full crowd of angry people. In order to win the crowd, and facilitate their escape, the band rips into Burke’s Everybody Needs Somebody To Love.

I know that traditionalists might sneer at a musician or soul enthusiast getting inspiration from Blues Brothers, but that’s exactly what happened. This scene combined excellent showmanship (Duck Dunn is smoking a pipe during the song, Jake and Elwood are doing flips, etc) with a hard driving romp of a soul song. I couldn’t imagine how anybody could be a part of something like that and NOT have fun. I might have been playing in the school band for 2 years before I saw that clip, but that’s when I decided to become a Musician.

I started to dig though Burke’s musical catalog after that. I found the Rolling Stones and Wilson Picket covers of Everybody, and I bought Don’t Give Up on Me, which is one of the best blues records I’ve ever heard. He did cuts with Dylan, Van Morrison, Clapton, Ben Harper, virtually every musician I loved. Plus, if you watch the guy on video, you can see that he has a real magnetism about him, and that isn’t just because he’s fat enough to have his own gravitational pull. It doesn’t matter what else the band is doing on stage, your eyes are drawn to Burke.

Of all his songs though, Everybody Needs Somebody To Love kept a special place in my heart. The lyrics vary a little bit from arrangement to arrangement, but in every cut, the song starts with a spoken section over the vamping keyboard line.

I’m so glad to be here tonight, and I’m so glad to be home!

I’ve got a message tonight for every woman and every man here tonight that ever needed someone to love…

somebody to stay with ’em when they’re up, somebody to stay with ’em when they’re down.

You know sometimes you get what you want…but then you lose what you had.

And I believe if that everybody listens to this song, it can save the world. It goes like this..

Then Burke will shift his weight a little bit into the mic, and belt it out. Everrrrrrybody! neeeeeeds somebody! Everrrrrrybody! Neeeeeeeeds somebody! To love!

Unlike perhaps any other song I know, Somebody celebrates both love and heartbreak. If you listen to it while you’re in love with somebody, you can smile smugly along with the song. If you’re alone, you aren’t broken into pieces while listening to it like you might be with John Mayer or Nine Inch Nails or something…it’s just like Burke is reading from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs  while being backed by a band so hot, even the biggest honkey has no choice but to give in to their head shakin’ and toe tappin’ urges.

Burke wasn’t Radiohead. He wasn’t about being a musical intellectual. His music wasn’t overtly sexy like Gaye or Green. To me, Burke’s work was about love…the love between people, the love of the performance, and the love of craft of making music.

And he was right...everybody needs a little of that.

Thanks for the memories…and I hear heaven has a killer horn section.

I’m not from Cleveland, and I’ve never lived there. I’m from the Columbus Area, which everybody knows is Cleveland Professional Sports country (Columbus Professional Sports culture currently exists of getting hammered in the Arena District after another humiliating BJ’s loss, and eating so many hot dogs at Dime a Dog night that you leave looking like Charlie Weis. Us Columbusians (Columbus-ites? People from Columbus?) identify with Cleveland on other levels too…we’re still a pretty blue collar town, we’re underdogs, we’re an afterthought, etc. When Lebron bolted for South Beach, we took is hard here too. I mean, I wrote like 10,000 words about it, and I’m still not really over it.

What do you mean there is a 10 hot dog per inning limit? DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM????

But it appears that Miami was not satisfied with simply stealing perhaps the greatest basketball player ever from the state, effectively murdering hoops in Cleveland. That wasn’t enough. They just took Brain Windhorst, the celebrated Cavs beat writer, with them. The voice of the Wine and Gold has decided to take his talents to South Beach with ESPN, who is starting a new webpage JUST for the Heat.

I don’t begrudge Windy for taking the gig. Astute basketball fans know that Windy is the best beat writer in the NBA (and perhaps of any professional team), and it would be unreasonable to expect him to stay in a secondary market forever, especially with the NYT and Yahoo breathing down his neck. If the Miami Herald asked me to cover Florida International Volleyball, or to be Dave Barry’s intern, or whatever, I’d take it. Thanks for all the great memories Windy, and best of luck. The problem of course, is that another Ohio Institution is going TO MIAMI.

I know that  Bernie Kosar took his talents to South Beach before Lebron took it to an unbearable level, and certainly lots of Case Western graduates are moving on to warmer climates. Heck, I even left Columbus for New Orleans, which is kind of a South Beach, only with more oil. BUT WHERE DOES THIS END? We’re already the butt of jokes in the national media…but have we now come to the point where none of our institutions are safe?

I used to worry that the Indians might trade Sizemore and Santana to Tampa Bay for cash considerations and a 13th round draft pick. Now, I suspect that Dolan will come out and admit that the team has been tanking the last few years so it could finally move to Florida. Major League wasn’t a comedy, it was a documentary!

The Rock n Roll hall of fame already has it’s induction ceremony in New York City. What is stopping it from packing up and moving to Vegas or something? It happened with the College Football HOF in South Bend.

Maybe Marc Norton opens up franchise location in Coral Gables?

Maybe Carl Monday finally accepts his destiny and joins a Fox News affiliate in Orlando?

Nothing is off limits. Something drastic must be done. Tony seemed to have the best idea to stop the South Beach menace once and for all, before they steal something else near and dear to us.

Everybody buy hundreds of cans of hair spray, and shoot them directly into the sky. With any luck, we’ll speed up global warming, and drown those jerks. Plus, I’m pretty sure Columbus will be beachfront property at that point.

WE’LL SEE WHO TAKES THEIR TALENTS TO SOUTH BEACH THEN

I don’t want to say that I’ve bounced around aimlessly since I left New Orleans last May, but this has been one of the first times in recent memory when I haven’t had a big goal to reach for. During college, my all encompassing goal was just to get into Teach for America, and then while teaching, I had a series of little goals for me and my students (We’re going to get a certain LEAP score! We’re going to get to December with no suspensions! I’m going to get out of here alive!). Since then, I’ve lived in two different cities, held a few temporary jobs, and just generally bounced around.

My current job contract ends Nov 4th, and I don’t have a total full time job lined up yet back in Chicago. I don’t have the money for grad school at the moment, and even if I did, I’m not sure if I want to get a communications related Masters, suck it up and go to Law School, or what. I don’t even have a weekend to build for. I need something to snap me out of this funk, but I’m not ready to make major academic or career decisions yet.

I got an idea, like I often do, while I went for my run.

I’ve been running on a quasi-regular basis since I rehabbed from my knee injuries in 2006, but I started to get really serious about it in New Orleans. If I was stumped about how to handle a particularly difficult student, or having girl problems, or homesick, or didn’t know how to write an RPOA blog post…I’d lace up the sneakers and pound pavement down St.Charles Avenue. Gotta get them endorphins out somehow. Now, since my current job has me stuck on the phone/laptop for ten hours a day, those runs in the Indiana night may be the only exercise I get.

I used to run just to run, but after I ran a 5K in May, I started keeping track of how many miles I was running, and what my times were.  I ran around 85 miles in July, and would have had close to that again in August  if I wasn’t doing so much traveling. I’m on pace to top that here this month, so on a lark, I started to look up what kind of training I’d need to do to run a marathon. I mean, I’m running a lot already right?

Well wouldn’t you know it, it’s pretty close to what I’ve been doing these past few months!

So why the hell not huh? Why not organize that energy, and push it towards a tangible goal, of me spending 5 hours running through a city, chomping on jellybeans, and collecting race T-shirts? Running a marathon seems like one of those things that everybody wants to be able to do but never get around to it. I can train the rest of my life, but I’ll never get into an NBA game, or kick a 40 yard field goal, or throw a 90mph heater. But, if I get the right amount of practice, I can run a marathon.

I was worried that this blog wouldn’t work out very well if it didn’t have a defined theme like RPOA, and maybe it still doesn’t. While I’m throwing up sports screeds or political rants, I think I’ll mix it up with stories from the pavement, and how I’ll go from a former nonathletic band geek to an ex-band geek who is just athletic enough to run 26.2 miles.

Who knows? Could be fun.

Ohio State is better than Yale.

I used to be self-conscious about where I got my degree

Since almost everyone in TFA had an Ivy-League pedigree

And when I’d tell ‘em “The Ohio State” they’d roll their eyes and snort,

“Your school is like 50 spots below ours in US News Report!”

***

They all might have gone to Europe, and dined with high society,

While I rode a COTA bus downtown that kinda smelled  like pee.

But once September rolls around, I find myself in luck,

Because now it’s football season, and quite frankly, you all suck.

***

So Harvard, Amherst and Williams, you guys can go to hell

And join Georgetown, Duke, Yale, Holy Cross, Wesleyan and Bucknell.

Sure, you’ve been leading academic institutions since before the days of Prohibition,

But I don’t see you kicking ass now on ESPN, in sparkling High Definition.

***

Stanford might be one of the most prestigious schools in the land,

But they couldn’t beat OSU this year, even if we let them use their band.

And BYU? I’ve never seen a bigger bunch of fail,

They couldn’t handle the MWC, so they had to grab two root beers and bail.

***

We beat Rice by over 70, and we’d beat Tulane by more,

And if Vandy came to Columbus, we wouldn’t even want to guess the score.

I don’t care about your ranking, or whose name is on your dorm hall

Our BCS ranking is the only statistic I care about this fall.

***

My Buckeye friends, if you’re in town, go see the game for me,

Grill outside, play some cornhole, maybe have a beverage or three,

Strike up the band, dot the I, and scream LETS GO BUCKS,

It’s 10:35 AM on September 2nd, and Michigan Still Sucks.

I also have a Dream

Like many others who think of Tea as a beverage and not as a political ideology, I was pretty concerned about the Beckapalooza rally yesterday. I haven’t watched cable TV programs in a few years (honest!), but I do have an internet connection, so I’ve heard a lot of the outlandish things Beck has said on his television programs. It seemed weird enough that an Anti-Government activist would give his speech on the same day as a famous pro-federal intervention rally (and on a federal monument)…but if the rally turned into a 2 hour version of his TV show, I figured an angry band of old people would rise up and burn down American University or something. I braced for the worst.

And then a funny thing happened. Beck didn’t turn the Lincoln Memorial into his own personal chalkboard. He didn’t call everybody in Southeast DC Nazis. By Beck standards, he was actually fairly mellow and uncontroversial. He called for Americans to not just pray, but pray with their children. He called for Americans to return to Faith, Hope and Charity. He didn’t insinuate his political rivals were secretly practicing Eugenics. Instead, he gave what could have been a Sacrament Meeting Talk. He stopped trying to be Father Coughlin for a while and tried to be Billy Graham.

Sure, it was a far cry from Dr.King’s “I have a dream” speech, but for a former radio morning zoo guy, it was still an accomplishment. I’m a huge Beck critic, but even I have admit that Beck could actually do a lot of good in the later role. Outside of LDS Church Officials, Beck could do more to bridge the declaration of war on Mormons by the Evangelical Community. He could mellow the hysterical ObamaIsAMuslimTerrirst crowd, and he carries enough cachet with the highly conservative movement that he could guilt them into dialing down the rhetoric. If Beck wanted to, he could be The Dog  Whisperer to the Bauchmans and Joe Millers of the world, and inspire people to be charitable and faithful. He’s emotional, he pokes fun at himself, and millions of people listen to him.

But Beck cannot do this on Sunday and spit poisonous arrows the rest of the week. He can not look America in the eye one day and appeal to our sense of honor, and then turn around and say things like:

”This president I think has exposed himself over and over again as a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture….I’m not saying he doesn’t like white people, I’m saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist.”

—Glenn Beck, on President Obama, sparking an advertiser exodus from his FOX News show, July 28, 2009

or

”Some may believe we’re on the road to the Hitler youth.”

—Glenn Beck, on teaching kids about climate change, Fox News’s Glenn Beck show, Feb. 5, 2009

You cannot serve two masters Beck, surely you were awake long enough in Sunday School to remember that. Remember Jerry Springer?

Folks might have forgotten, but before Springer’s name became synonymous with midgets, fights and baby-mammas, he was actually a respected journalist and politician. He testified before Congress to get the 26th amendment passed, held on to a City Council seat in conservative Cincinnati even after embarrassing personal issues, served a term as Mayor, and turned around the lowest-rated news team in Cincinnati. Folks loved his irreverent and self-depreciating style. Given how short the Democratic Bench was in Ohio during the 1980s and 1990s, Springer might have very well been a Congressman, or a Senator.

But he loved the shock jock life too much, and people couldn’t take him seriously when he said “Take care of yourself, and each other”, while he mediated battle royals between transgender clowns. Springer chose to appeal to our most vile and base instincts. He made a ton of money, gained many followers, but wasn’t the leader he could have been.

Beck is now faced with a similar choice. His TV program now panders to the most base of emotions…fear and hate. He is the master of the half truth, the paranoid scream, and the well-placed tear (the Beck program is what would happen if you gave that one woman in your ward who cries three seconds into her Testimony a prime time TV show).  He knows that his program has political consequences, but he doesn’t care. Like Limbaugh and others of his ilk, he says :

”I could give a flying crap about the political process … We’re an entertainment company.”

—Glen Beck, Forbes interview; April, 2010


And he’s right…he’s runs that company very well. But if Glenn Beck is serious about Restoring Honor to America and the Political Process, he knows what he has to do. Beck can either follow the footsteps of Limbaugh, Stern and Springer, and continue to entertain with no regard to the social consequences, or he can take the high road, end his show, and be more like Billy Graham.

I have a dream too, that Beck makes the right choice. If he does, I just might shed a tear as well.