Saturday, March 31, 2007

Profiles in Karl (Another Karl Rove Adventure)

Part 1

I was really flattered when my friend and sometime boss Karl Rove asked me to help him ghostwrite a book. We were sitting in his pumpkin-colored office. Fox news was covering the Anna Nicole Smith autopsy on one ceiling-mounted monitor. CNN and MSNBC were covering the US Attorney firings and the Pat Tillman report on the others.

KR: Isn’t that great about Tillman, no finding of negligent homicide?

CL: He was still shot by his own troops and they still found that nine different officers either lied about or covered up what happened.

KR: But the headline’s going to read “No finding of murder in Tillman case.” It’s the headline that matters.

Karl points to his own head for emphasis.

CL: Better yet, the bigger headline is going to read “No murder in Anna Nicole case.” In 38DD point type.

Karl touches the tip of his nose with his finger.

KR: You know JFK was the first president to watch the tv news on a regular basis.

CL: Karl, I didn’t know that you studied Democrats too.

KR: There’s a lot the spin machine doesn’t give JFK credit for. You know he voted against the Civil Rights Act when he was in the senate.

CL: But Nixon voted for it. It was the reason Jackie Robinson campaigned for him.

KR: (Karl wipes away a tear) I just wish Dick’s judgment had been a little better sometimes. Had he not started pandering to the voters with his “Secret plan to end the war”, we’d still be in Vietnam. We never would have cut and run.

CL: But we never would have had “Miss Saigon” on Broadway either and we still got a few years of secret bombings in Cambodia.

KR: Back to your question CL. I admire the fact that JFK and his Dad were smart politicians. You know I studied Cook County very carefully that whole Thanksgiving weekend back in 2000 when the fate of our nation came down to Clarence Thomas.

There’s no President from the modern era who got more out of his legacy from less than JFK. So now that the boss is just two years from leaving office, I think about JFK a lot.

CL: Oh my God, Karl! Why would you think I’d have anything to do with something like that?

KR: Things like what?

CL: Well, you know, the grassy knoll, the magic bullet, CIA operatives mysteriously popping up all over the place. Didn’t you read the Howard Hunt article in the Rolling Stone?

KR: Hold on CL. Even if we could do it, it would be wrong. For one, even if we wanted to do something like that, the CIA’s mad at me. I told the wife not to drop them from our Christmas card list.

CL: Karl, I’m not sure I would plame it on that if I were you.

KR: CL, that name sounds familiar, but I assure you I’ve never heard of the woman or spoken to any reporters about her before Lewis Libby did. Besides, how can they convict someone for a cover up, if they can’t convict anyone for the crime that was being covered up.

CL: You do realize that makes absolutely no sense. Sometimes you prosecute for the cover up, because that person destroyed the underlying evidence.

KR: Who cares if it makes sense, it worked with some of those idiots we send talking points too. You know the type. Now they’re saying they don’t like the idea of independent prosecutors having all this power, but Ken Starr was some sort of super-patriot to them. You tell these folk anything and they’ll repeat it. Most of them even think that Ann Coulter is some sort of victim.

When it comes to politics CL, you kind of have a little mind sometimes.

CL: Well, if you mean being bound by logic, truth, and the Constitution, yeah, I guess it’s on the small side.

KR: What do you take me for anyway? Just because I’d let 3,200 American soldiers and maybe hundreds of thousands of Iraqis die to win a couple elections, I’d certainly never consider letting anyone kill the President. I’m no ogre. Would an ogre pretend to rap in front of hundreds of laughing journalists?

CL: Karl, I’m truly sorry I even thought that. It was honestly just a misunderstanding.

KR: No sweat CL, happens all the time. I’m just a terribly misunderstood guy, which is why I hired you in the first place.

CL: So what’s this got to do with my writing a book.

KR: Well, think about how JFK got to be president.

CL: There was PT 109, but I think you’re a little past enlistment age yourself and you know I still feel bad about helping you make the President’s Air National Guard service sound all that courageous. I mean “He can prove that he got all his pay warrants and that letter couldn’t have been an original,” really don’t compare that well to “He pulled me out of the river in the face of enemy fire.”

KR: But it worked.

CL: If you’re so good at spin, why don’t you spin yourself out of this U.S. Attorney mess?

KR: CL, you know you’re the only one who talks to me like this.

CL: Well, maybe it has something to do with your firing anyone else who was remotely critical of you or the administration. I do, however, appreciate your getting me health benefits outside the VA system though.

KR: Sure thing, CL. Those who serve this administration deserve the best. I couldn’t imagine sending you to the VA, no one deserves to be treated like that. You know the President did apologize for all those people who screwed up there without his knowledge or explicit approval. When there’s blame to assign elsewhere, he’s very good at that sort of thing.

CL: I have to agree with that one.

KR: No, CL. Think Pulitzer Prize.

CL: You’re talking about Profiles in Courage. Karl, I can’t even get my own stuff published. How do you expect me to help you write a Pulitzer Prize winning book about you and this administration that’s favorable?

KR: Ted Sorensen did it and he didn’t have the benefit of working for me for two years. Besides, times are different now. Joe Kennedy had to call in favors. We have Regnery, Fox, Chris Matthews, all of the major networks news divisions. You don’t have to write all that well or even make sense to get on every talk show imaginable. In fact, it helps if you don’t.

CL: Thanks, I think.

KR: I have it from the President himself that he has complete confidence in you and that he’s 100 percent behind you.

CL: Didn’t he say that about the Attorney General last week and didn’t the man immediately call Don Rumsfeld to ask him about real estate agents?

KR: True, but you never lied to Congress. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Part 2

(the below manuscript was found on a Hard Drive recovered in the year 2147. It is not certain whether it is an allegory, an actual piece of historical writing, or some now unrecognized form of humor writing. Clearly, the author was not an especially skilled writer, but legal anthropogists have confirmed that America once indeed had a concept known as “the rule of law.”
It is also said that this came from a time when people had enough energy to cool their homes in summer, open space, and the earth’s average temperature was as low as 15 degrees centigrade. The book The Handmaid’s Tale was even thought to be satire or dystopia rather than prophecy.)

Profiles in Karl

At the turn of the twenty first century, America was not yet a monarchy and deputy chiefs of staff had not been granted their full powers as a matter of civil rights law. Since the Watergate scandal in the mid-late 20th century, two entire generations of Americans had been tragically confused about issues like separation of powers, the significance of party allegiance over a more diffuse nominal patriotism, habeas corpus, freedom of the press, laws against treason (as if any member of the administration could ever be guilty of treason), and Saint Bill O’reilly’s taste in lufas. It is hard to believe today but as late as 2007, many Americans actually believed in something called the “Rule of Law”.

During this legal Dark Age, members of the executive branch who wanted to use their powers to carry out such necessary duties as tapping telephones of American citizens, using law enforcement as an extension of the Republican National Committee, and raising money by coincidentally easing unnecessary Federal regulations for key contributors did so at the risk of prosecution or,in some ways worse, the politically motivated and illegitimate oversight by Congress. Only one man stood between the chaos of participatory democracy and America’s Imperial destiny, Karl Rove.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that a matter as trivial as replacing a few U.S. Attorneys would have started a Constitutional crisis. It is even harder to believe today that so many Americans actually took the side of the Constitution. The incident had its roots in the 1970’s, an even more primitive time, when President Nixon had tried to stop an investigation into crimes committed in the Oval Office by firing his own special prosecutor who had the temerity to subpoena the President himself. Many believe this was the beginning of the end in the constitutional tragedy of Richard Nixon, a president who simply had the misfortune of being far ahead of his time.

After the 2006 midterm elections when the Democratic party was allowed to mislead the voting public with multiple stories of Republican corruption and the media’s failure to report the good news about the early stages of the hundred year long war in Iraq, the party lost control of both houses of Congress. Karl Rove, alone, understood that U.S. attorneys who serve at the will of the President, could play a key political role in ensuring American security by keeping the Federal Government under Republican control. In particular, it was U.S. attorneys who made the decision to prosecute for election fraud and political corruption. If the wrong individual had this power, a renegade U.S. Attorney might try to apply the law equally to members of both parties.

Anticipating this possible crisis, Rove alertly and at great risk to himself, called on the Department of Justice to identify potentially disloyal U.S. Attorneys who might be replaced with more trustworthy individuals. It is a measure of Rove’s non-partisanship that the U.S. Attorneys identified for removal were all loyal Republicans. Sadly, the Democratically controlled congress chose to turn this into a show trial. Many members of the justice department were forced to resign their jobs and even the great Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, was subjected to tremendous political pressure during the investigation. In the meantime, insufficiently loyal but competent prosecutors like H.E. Cummins and David Iglesias were publicly celebrated.

Despite being interviewed by yet another partisan special prosecutor, thirteen times, Rove was not indicted or convicted for almost a year. It was not until Congress found out that Rove had used secret e-mail accounts as a way to avoid the red tape involved with the bureaucratic nightmare then known as the Executive Records Act that the politically motivated persecution of Rove was completed with his conviction in October of 2008. He was rightfully pardoned by President Bush the very next day so never had to suffer the indignity of being sent to prison for his loyalty to the Republican Party and the incipient monarchy.

Both Karl Rove and President Bush were extraordinarily unpopular because they took the principled stance that the President should be able to do whatever he/she wants without interference from Congress. It is virtually impossible today to understand or appreciate Rove’s incredible courage and dedication to what were then deeply unpopular principles.

Sixty years earlier, Senator Robert Taft had opposed the Nuremberg trials on the U.S. Constitutional Ground that the trials violated ex post facto. Part of the price of Taft’s principled stand was that he never became President (once chronicled in the now banned book Profiles in Courage). In 2006, a Republican President took the principled stand that the Constitution does not apply to American actions outside the Continental United States. He would never have been able to have redefined America with this unprecedented act had it not been for the courage and dedication of his Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove, a man who put politics above country.

This book is dedicated to the man who taught America that politics must sometimes trump competence and that the rule of law is just for whiners. He was not honored in his own time, but we cherish his legacy in Profiles in Karl.

Editors note: Children’s Book Writer and Texas Senator, chosen by the Texas state legislature in 2028, Jenna Bush authored Profiles in Karl in 2030. It was awarded a Fox News Book of Merit in 2031 and served as the platform for her successful coronation in 2036. There are rumors that St. Karl himself may have both come up with the idea and even done most of the research for the book through a staff of ghostwriters. St. Karl repeatedly denied them throughout the rest of his life. There is a story that a blogger from California (once part of the United States) claimed to have written the first chapters of Profiles in Karl, but the source was always considered highly unreliable. The one excerpt from Profiles in Karl found on his alleged blog, was so different from the rest of his writings that even if real this short period of lucidity was more the exception than the rule.

Karl Rove adventures


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Friday, March 30, 2007

Chris Sligh Doesn't Find the Magic (American Idol 6 review)

If you ever happen to take a moment to look over the profiles of the finalists on the official American Idol Page you might be struck by the same thing I was. An awful lot of the contestants mention God rather prominently and most plan to thank God if they happen to win. Not a single one of them wants to thank America, the ingrates. No wonder that family wanted Simon Cowell to go back to French.

Melinda Doolittle and Haley Scarnato mention God repeatedly. Jordin Sparks and Chris Sligh were a bit lower key about it, but have made their beliefs clear in other ways. This led me to ask what role God really plays in the show. Is it more or less like saying “World Peace” in Miss America?

It does make sense to me, God’s second commandment is “Thou shalt not worship false idols,” so he/she clearly has a strong interest in helping to ensure that America picks the right one. It did strike me as a bit odd that Chris Sligh who also serves as a youth minister and whose preferred musical genre is “Christian Rock” got voted off the show before say Sanjaya Malakar singing about “Bathwater.” I mean if God has so much to say about the outcomes each Wednesday, What was up with that?

Clearly, I could not answer these questions on my own lowly spiritual level, so I sent an e-mail to the archangel Gabriel (sorry it’s a private e-mail address) who is reputed to have a very strong interest in music. I was a little shocked to start getting text messages not from Gabriel, but from God himself.

God: So Gabriel sent me your shout out from his page and for now I have you on my friends list.

I dropped to my knees immediately and began confessing.

CL: I really shouldn’t have lied about where I was that night. I was young, but it was still wrong…

God: You want to confess, go to church or something. I thought you wanted to talk about American Idol.

CL: Sorry, I’m pretty bewildered here. Text messages, What happened to the burning bush and hearing voices?

God: Al Gore helped us with something called Ether-Mail back when he invented the Internet. It keeps an Akashik record. I can send messages to multiple people. You wouldn’t believe some of the confusion we had with the old system. Look at what happened to Lot’s wife. No way that had to happen. Lot just didn’t believe it was really me and as I think about it, who can blame him? So many things, I might have done differently. I mean I probably didn’t have to torture Job for 720 years just to win a bet with Satan. A hundred and seventy five would have been plenty. You realize that after I restored everything to him three fold all the warranties had expired and the community property laws had changed?

By the way, that ten commandments font I'm using is pretty cool. You think?

CL: But, you’re texting me? What’s that mean? I’m no saint.

God: Hey whoa! I talk to everyone. Don’t get any ideas there. That’s how the Taiping rebellion started and don’t even get me started on Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy. Btw, I sound and look nothing like George Burns.

CL: But shouldn’t we be texting about the end of days or something? American Idol is just a tv show.

God: You remember in Genesis where it says “On the seventh day I rested.” Enough with this work ethic stuff, I need time off. Gabriel’s into music, so we watch the show two nights a week. We don’t watch the auditions though, way too mean spirited. I hear that Lucifer likes them. Anyway, next week is tough, the Bachelor starts and I really don’t have time for both shows.

CL: Okay, as long as you’re not going to smote me or anything. I’m honored to be texting you about the show.

God: Well, you came recommended by Elvis.

CL: So why Chris Sligh?

God: Hey, you want to hear a joke?…..St. Peter calls Sigmund Freud up to see me. Freud’s happy to get out of hell where he spends the eternity being tantalized by pictures of his mother while she yells at him about what a stupid idea penis envy was. Anyway, he gets up here and says, “But why does God need a psychoanalyst?”

Peter says, “Well to be honest Dr. Freud, he’s having delusions of grandeur.”

Freud scratches his head for a moment, pulls out a cigar, then asks,”How could God possibly have delusions of grandeur?”

Peter shrugs and points him to this room where I’m sitting at the end of a long table with three chairs. Freud says “The Last Supper?”

“No, way worse than that. He thinks he’s Simon Cowell.”

(pause) Hey, you’re not laughing.

CL: Honestly, I thought it was funny, but I don’t always laugh at loud at text jokes.

God: Look, it’s me. I can look into your heart. You’re not laughing.

CL: Well, maybe it was the timing.

God: I’ll work on it. Henny Youngman and his wife have been asking for a better room, maybe he can help.

CL: I always kind of liked Lenny Bruce’s timing.

God: I’m sorry. I felt bad for Lenny too and I liked Bob Fosse’s movies, but he just didn’t meet the standards to get in here. Richard Pryor’s here though.

CL: I guess while we’re at it…Is it true what they say about Milton Berle?

God: Oy….some stories just won’t die. Boy, you get text messages from me and you want to talk about stuff like that?

I cross myself.

CL: Okay, let’s talk about what you want to talk about.

God: You know what a Pharisee is?

CL: Were they a doo wop group at the end of the fifties?

God: Everyone’s a comedian these days.

CL: But how was my timing?

God: Okay, Chris Sligh’s rhythm was off. Paula was right, he’s ahead of the beat, but that’s not what happened to him. He’s a nice fellow….It’s certainly not like I didn’t like the guy. Look at the wife.

CL: But, Chris said Jesus was his biggest inspiration.

God: Yeah, but that Ponyhawk was pretty awesome. That kid Sanjaya’s awfully entertaining. You know as much as Sligh talked about “beating the system”, Sanjaya figured out how to get more out of less.

CL: But he can’t sing that well.

God: You think I care. I hear the music of the heart anyway. You saw how he handled his sister. I’m not a big Diana Ross fan, but she said “Sanjaya is love.” That’s all good with me. And I like looking at my creations sometimes, so I helped keep Haley on the show.

CL: Does this mean that you’re male? The Wiccans are really going to be disappointed.
Btw, what’s up with Haley dressing like that and talking about praying all the time?
God: Look, you’re sweating the small stuff there. It was fun, maybe you don’t have to analyze everything. You have to understand that I’m sort of beyond gender…..You humans are always trying to anthropomorphize me. I have to say I kind of like the way the Qu’ran does me.

CL: Whoa!!!! You telling me that you’re the same God?

God: Abraham, Moses, Noah, Jesus….they’re both sure there’s only one of me. You connect the dots.

CL: But why do you let people kill each other over those dots?

God: I’d love to talk about that stuff some time, but maybe we should get back to Chris Sligh. Yes, the rhythm was a problem, but it was the Simon thing.

CL: Il Divo and Teletubbies?

God: No, that was sort of funny. People don’t get the fact that it might have been a mistake, but we all make mistakes. It’s always the cover up that gets people.

CL: I guess I shouldn’t ask about the U.S. Attorney thing.

God: yeeesh…..Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but that entire administration is run by Pharisees. They run around telling everyone that they believe in me and want to enforce all the written rules even the ones that aren’t really written, but you look in their hearts and yikes! Sometimes, I tell myself this “Free will” business was not such a good idea.

CL: I wish you’d talk more in public about this stuff.

God: I wish people would listen with their hearts more when I do.

CL: So, you didn’t like something about the way Sligh apologized?

God: He said he didn’t disrespect Simon with the remark. It was a lie. He was doing exactly that. In that moment, it was more important to Chris Sligh to stay on the show than to show real integrity. After that, instead of being the jester, he tried to act all humble and I’m not sure he really was.

CL: So it didn’t matter that he told the world that he’s your servant.

God: You know the debate in Galatians about deeds vs. professions of faith.

CL: Well, to be honest….

God: Paul was really dealing with the question of whether you had to be Jewish first in order to be Christian and I think the underlying circumcision debate was a false dichotomy. Both matter, but what’s in your heart matters even more.

CL: Wow…Chris Sligh is going to hell for that?

God: Whoa, whoa… no way. He’s going home and I hope coming home to me. He has a lovely wife, a band. He may even learn to sing in rhythm. He just lost his way on the show, so he needs to test himself again. Besides, he just didn’t sing all that memorably. (in a British accent) After all, it is about the music.

CL: Wow, how’d you do an accent in a text message?

God: It's too bad really. You know for the End World Hunger night, I was thinking of turning over the original musical settings for King David's Psalms. Now, that would have been the bomb, Dawg!

CL: You talk to Nigel Lythgoe?

God: Where do you think this Idol Cares stuff came from?

CL; But how do you know Nigel?

God: I shouldn't be telling you this, but Satan's the silent partner in 19E....You know I was going to be on the show for Songs of Inspiration Theme Night.

CL: Now that would really have been hot.

God: was too bad Bono insisted on top billing. Maybe next year.

CL: (laughing) Now, that time your timing was perfect.

God: Before you get any ideas, I really don’t mess with the show. He did it to himself. Gabriel and I do vote though. Last year, busy signals all the time. This year, it’s much better.

CL: If you didn’t vote for Chris? Can I ask who you two are voting for?

God: (an MP3 ring tones of "Heaven Knows" mysteriously begins playing on my cell) I really shouldn’t say.

CL: About this global warming thing.

God: Sorry, not my doing and yes this sunspot business is silly. Mandisa wasn’t my doing either last year by the way.

CL: I hate to say this, but I don’t have an unlimited text messaging plan. It was good chatting with you.

God: Cya….but, one little bit of advice CL.

CL: I’m all eyes.

God: It’s just a tv show. You don’t have to write these reviews every week. No one pays you. Maybe cook dinner for the wife instead. Go for a walk. Help out a little bit. Think about what really matters and live your life accordingly.

I wanted to type “You’re not the boss of me,” but all I could do was nod.

The below are strictly my thoughts.

Phil Stacy- This is the third time I’ve said that he sang pretty well. Why is it that I don’t particularly want him on the show anymore? He’s sort of the singing equivalent of a utility infielder who gets into the lineup and gets two hits. End of the season, he’s still a utility infielder.

Lakisha Jones- The time scale of this show is really weird. Simon said she lost 30 years this week. He was exactly right. With Donna Summer, she went all the way from 1950 to 1980….That’s still 25 years ago.

Gina Glocksen- I liked what she did with Chrissie Hynde. Outfit looked like a background dancer from a 1980’s mtv video.

Gwen Stefani- I swear she was lip synching. My wife kept saying, “Wow, a Madonna copy.” Wasn’t Akon almost the same staging as Shakira and Wyclef Jean in almost exactly the same week as last year? As weak as the idols are sometimes, it’s weird how many of them actually sing better than the guest judges.

Chris Richardson- they give him the entire Ford commercial, the anchor spot, Chris Daughtry’s guitar player, and the camera always just manages to find him when he’s being nice to the other contestants. What’s going on here?

Blake Lewis- Paula said “finale”. I really wanted the camera to show Lakisha’s face at that moment. The judges keep making it sound like the winner is a foregone conclusion. They also said Jordin might break into the final two. Sanjaya can’t be that great that no one else seriously has a chance. This is the other guy who clearly out –strategized the Fro Patro guy. Of course Chris Sligh’s other problem was that when he figured out how to get his 15 minutes on the show, he just didn’t deliver. Blake Lewis has.

Jordin Sparks- The schoolgirl outfit was a bit weird and I’m not sure that “Hey Baby” was all that great, but she left “no doubt” that she is the one female contender who actually can do music from the last five years. She’s also the most poised contestant on camera, not just an amazingly poised 17 year old. It’s almost a rarer gift than being able to sing.

I’m thinking somewhere in a church in Greenville, South Carolina in the next couple weeks, the music director might be thinking, “God works in mysterious ways, but when Ryan said I was one of the cleverest contestants ever on the show....that wasn't the message I should have left America with."

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Sir Linksalot American Idol articles

SirLinksalot Chris Sligh American Idol


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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I Was a Teen Volleyball Chaperone (volleyball)

Chaperoning Lesson #1 If Carrie Bradshaw Does not Play Middle For TCA18’s, I Don’t Want to Be Hearing about Her.

I’m in a rental house with my daughter’s 18’s team in Henderson, Nevada. The good news is that the house has a fifty- inch television. The bad news is that the speakers only seem to work at about 100 decibels, i.e. more than loud enough to be heard clearly in the chaperone’s bedroom that I share with my wife. More good news is that the girls are clearly enjoying a boxed set of DVD’s that one of them brought from home. Since their plane came in from the other coast at four in the morning, they need the down time. The bad news is that the characters in the DVD are named Samantha, Charlotte, Miranda, and Carrie.

It’s a brand new club for us. We don’t know the girls or their parents and the chaperoning guide they sent us by e-mail didn’t mention anything about appropriate videos.

So here’s one option. I can utterly embarrass my daughter by stepping in and demanding that they change from Sex and the City to the Family Guy, the other boxed set on the coffee table. Of course, even though it’s animated, the content of Family Guy isn’t any less adult than detailed discussions of Samantha Jones’s cross-dressing neighbors or Charlotte’s boyfriend’s choice of language mid-rally.

“Oh yeah, she’s the one whose mom and dad got all hung up about Sex and the City. Geez, we’ve been watching it on all our away trips and my parents were the one who gave me the DVD for Christmas. Is he saying my parents are bad parents?”

“Dad, you’ve watched Sex and the City and I’ve been in the room before. You even laughed.”

So, what did I do? I made eye contact with a couple of the girls in a way that asked the question “You sure this is all right with your parents?”

They shrugged back at me. I waited a day or so and then checked in with the coach to mention my dilemma so it could be addressed at some other time without it turning into “Mr. Boris” busted us.

I figure there are hundreds of parents who would flame me for not being vigilant enough. Yes, it did occur to me that my daughter’s new club is in a region of the country that’s a lot more religious than where we live. At the same time, Sex and the City passed the hotel test. That is, it’s on most hotels’ regular cable systems. It’s not one of those pay per view items that you have the option of telling the front desk to shut off. I reasoned that had we been in one of the hundreds of hotels on the strip, they might be in a room watching Sex and the City and I wouldn’t even know about it. In fact in the Bay Area, they show it on broadcast television in not very censored form. Is there stuff on the show you wouldn’t want your daughter seeing without your at least knowing about it? Absolutely. fwiw, I’m not sure what I would have done if the boxed set had been Deadwood, Queer as Folk, or The L Word instead.

First lesson of being a volleyball chaperone, it’s exhausting, but not necessarily for the obvious reasons. Driving nine girls across Clark County twice a day, packing lunches at six in the morning, making sure everyone has a bed, a time to shower, and doing laundry, certainly takes it out of you over the course of four days. At the same time, that’s not what’s really tiring. Chaperones make endless numbers of snap judgments in the course of a tournament. Most of them are about as easy to call as the question of would you like your daughter to grow up to be Samantha Jones?

So I chickened out. Rather than have nine girls hate me for three days. I figured I’d let someone else fight the battle after I was no longer directly responsible for them. It’s not perfect, but it’s what gets you through middle age without having to take high blood pressure medication on a regular basis.

Chaperoning Lesson # 1.5 SCVA Meets NBA

My daughter’s former club, Empire, actually doesn’t allow male chaperones on overnight trips. One of the things you find out when you change clubs is that no two clubs do any particular thing exactly the same way. For instance, there’s the whole matter of how you bill for the road trips when one of the players gets sick and doesn’t make the trip. I’ve even heard of one coach who confiscated all her players’ cell phones one time. I do figure, however, that no chaperones this weekend took their girls to see Thunder Down Under or the Chippendale’s review.

In the meantime, some of the more unusual issues on this particular weekend had to do with the NBA All Star game. When David Stern made the decision to give Las Vegas its chance to prove its worthiness for a major league franchise in what is likely the sport that has the longest history of point-fixing scandals, I think he might have overlooked the possibility that the city that wakes after dark would suddenly find itself host to both a United Street Gangs of America convention and an air traffic security nightmare. I suspect that if he didn’t plan for those two things, he probably had no idea there would be more than a thousand junior volleyball girls sharing the city that weekend.

Still, it’s not exactly a chaperone’s dream to hear the following from your daughter’s teammates, “We were listening to the radio last night and there were two shootings outside hotel X here. Oh by the way, when do we get to see the strip this weekend?”

I do want to make it clear that the vast majority of NBA All Star fans are perfectly respectable particularly this year since Ron Artest didn’t make the team. Still, we were more than a little grateful to have found ourselves in Henderson. Hopefully next year’s Las Vegas Invitational will be in conjunction with a biker’s gathering or rodeo convention instead.

The other one time only aspect of chaperoning this particular Vegas tournament was that our older daughter was there both to work (she’s a college assistant) and to hang out with friends with connections. Try having this conversation,
“What did you do last night?”

“Well I barbequed chicken and hot dogs for the team and twelve very nice girls from Colorado. I never knew a four bedroom house could ever get quite that loud with parents present. I also have never almost been blown up before while trying to cook for the first time on a propane grill. How was your night last night?”

“It was okay. We met Steve Nash and Kevin Garnett at Steve Nash’s party at Bellagio, you want to see some of the pictures we took? Boy, I’m tired.”

Fwiw, the pictures were perfectly respectable. None of our three kids appear to be Antonella Barba, whom I suspect is a far nicer young woman than most America thinks. Anyway, this is either the benefit or danger of letting your kids take volleyball scholarships to schools regularly visited by Dick Vitale and Billy Packer. It wasn’t what we had in mind when we encouraged her to go there because the place had a great academic reputation.

Chaperoning Lesson #2 The Water Cycle

Most chaperoning dilemmas are far less dramatic than either the decision to allow Candace Bushnell-based videos in the living room or avoid gang shootings. A lot of it is at the level of how many of the girls come along to Costco or Walmart when you shop for the groceries and who stays behind to watch those who don’t go. In the meantime, you get these little tips from other parents and the girls themselves like “You better know that XXXX has to eat every couple hours or so or she totally crashes and it affects the team…..Also don’t let yyyyyy forget her brace, she absolutely needs it and she’ll try to go on the court without it and last time….”

It’s considerations like this that make even easy matters amazingly stressful. Take the water bottle paradox, a problem supposedly left unsolved by Newton himself. It runs something like this. “Is there a finite amount of bottled water to buy for a given day of a tournament at a site that has water jugs available to refill empty bottles?”

I’m reasonably certain that the mountain of empty plastic bottles at volleyball tournaments is one of the major causes of global warming and the trade deficit. Whatever your beliefs, virtually everyone agrees that it’s both a huge waste and a custodial nightmare—Water bottles Water bottles everywhere but not a drop to drink.

My daughter’s current club has any number of thoughtful-responsible parents (something actually reflected in the girls). We came to Las Vegas with the clear prime directive “Just give each of them one bottle for the day and she can refill it from the jugs against the wall. Each girl needs to be responsible for her own bottle.”

Of course, this ran into the small matter of reality. As in, some six foot tall seventeen year old comes up to you and says, “Do you have another bottle of water, I lost mine, and I really need to drink something.”

As chaperone, you sit there and ask yourself “Okay if star outside dehydrates here with Russ Rose and Andy Banachowski watching from the folding seats, the team might lose and the recruiters might blame it on something my own daughter did or didn’t do.”

Naturally, we decided to pay ten bucks for four bottles of water at the Cashman Center. The next day, Mrs. Boris and I improvised and bought an extra case and a half of water that we kept in the van and doled out when necessary. It might have broken with the directions we got from a club named for a Hellenically ideal geometric structure, but it worked for us. (the geometric thing does likely explain why the coach makes them tuck in their jerseys at 45 degree angles even during practices though at least one person insists that he’s just OCD) Of course, at moments like this you don’t much stop tothink that Russ Rose likely isn’t on your sideline to watch your kid. Otherwise you might have gotten a letter or two or maybe an e-mail back on September 1.

In the meantime, nine young women’s futures may be riding on your having food available at just the right time or just the right amount of water.

Chaperoning Lesson #3 Pretending Not to Hear Things

Mrs. Badanov is much better at an interpersonal level than I. Historically, I’ve always been the one to hear kids talking about something and bring it up immediately. She was the one who taught me that there’s a most effective time and way to follow up. The single greatest reason to chaperone a multi-day tournament is that you get to know who your daughter is spending all this time with at an intimate level. Even if you have them in the back of your car on the way to practices or tournaments, you probably don’t get to see who the girls are, how they interrelate, and how they treat one another.

Our situation this year is unusual. Actually, it puts us in the trans-Plutoid realm of over the top crazy volleyball parents. Our daughters have always been exceptionally close despite the fact that they are eight years apart. The older one is now a college coach and the younger one hopes to have the chance to play in college. Mrs. Boris and I never played which often becomes apparent when we try to talk to them about happenings on the court. The older one lives on the east coast and they wanted time together, not just visit time but in some ways volleyball time as well. While we have had a long and positive relationship with our home club, we made the decision to give up some direct time as parents in exchange for giving them this chance to enjoy being sisters at a critical time.

Our club volleyball daughter generally forbids me to mention her or her team, but she’s taken on an enormous challenge by moving across the country, taking on a new high school in a strange town, and playing for a new club and coach with virtually no social safety net for these six months. Whether or not things work on the volleyball end, we’ve learned that she just might manage without us. As for the older one, despite the fact that she didn’t let me meet Kevin Garnett, her taking on the role of surrogate mom, volleyball parent, etc. has been an act of pure devotion to family and love for her younger sister—it’s sort of like the Boxcar Children in spandex.

We feel very lucky in the whole volleyball playing siblings realm. What could have been a source of pressure, competition, etc. even despite the age difference, has become instead a bridge to express their bond as sisters. I was an only child, so it’s been an especially great lesson for me. On our end, it’s a leap for any parent to put this much trust this early in one’s kids. So far, it’s worked out okay. There are, however, no promises in life. Still, we feel blessed to see all three of our children’s love and commitment to one another (we have an older son who’s also devoted to his sisters).

I’m again reminded that the challenge of being a sports parent is that there are two dramas. At one level, the child is trying to prove that she’s special as an athlete. At another level the point of the whole thing is that she’s learning that it’s important to be special as a person and that the sport is just a medium for doing that. If you invest only in the one, it leads to pain and frustration in that for every team that wins, there is one that loses. If you prioritize the other, you have a chance to emerge from being a junior sports parent with your sanity intact. I would say the one blessing in this sport of not having a daughter with Alex Klineman’s size or talent is that you have to figure this out much earlier or stay out of the gym.

Of course, this comes from a parent who let his daughter play for a club in North Carolina one year.

So basically, the unspoken challenge of chaperoning is that you hear the girls talk about all sorts of things. I should say out front that the most shocking thing we heard over the weekend was the girls talking in the back of the van about reading the book Freedom Writers, currently a Hillary Swank movie, and threaten to start a book club to talk about whatever they happened to be reading.

It’s not good for a parent to faint while driving a van filled with volleyball players, but fortunately the traffic was light. Did someone kidnap our daughter and replace her with an android? We’re still wondering if the girls staged it to persuade us that everything was all right. This was, after all, our first chance to get to know who our daughter had been hanging out with over the last six weeks.

On the other end of the scale, I also had to hear girls talk about getting e-mail from boys three states away on Myspace. Btw, If you want to suddenly be popular as a chaperone, bring a laptop with a wireless connection. Of course, you’ll then see about 500 myspace and facebook pages, but it may have been the one time the girls noticed my presence much or even asked why I wear a black trenchcoat everywhere. One of the girls actually speaks French at home, so she rather cleverly spoke French whenever she happened to be on the cell phone around us. I never mentioned to her that I understand French from my training as an agent for Fearless Leader. Fortunately, all her conversation was perfectly parent-acceptable unless my French is a whole lot worse than I think.

At its very heart, Las Vegas is a recruiting tournament. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of seeing scores of college coaches wandering the sidelines even your sideline, but it’s also easy to forget that the girls are under enormous pressure. Making matters worse, every single female teenager in America who was 6’3 or taller and even vaguely coordinated was somewhere in Cashman Center. If you’re under 5’8”, it must be like my showing up at a dance and discovering that all the other guys are there for the Brad Pitt and Tiki Barber family reunions. Anyway, there were any number of “Is anyone looking at my game? Am I doing okay?” mini-dramas happening all around us. They don’t necessarily need to hear more of it from you no matter how much you’re dying to talk about it.

By the way, Natasha and I have a plan for the next big recruiting tournament we attend. We’re going to show up in college jackets from our alma mater Whattsamatta U and pull out palm pilots, point at players, and chat animatedly (we know how to Animate part thanks to Jay Ward). We want to see how many parents slip behind us to see if they can hear what we’re saying.

In addition, there was one big drama. One of the better-known recruits committed to well known volleyball school on the second day of the tournament. This was great news for her, but was difficult news probably for at least three or four young women who could also jump touch ten feet six inches. Do you acknowledge stuff like this? Talk to the parents? Or do you simply let them work it through on their own unless you hear blood curdling screams from some back bedroom? The wise Mrs. Badonov advised, “Unless they make it your business, it’s not our business.”

That, of course, was the right call. She has this knack for being right about things like this. If only she could be this way when it comes to moose and squirrel. As it turns out, the volleyball recruiting process is endlessly mysterious. The saga wound up having an unexpectedly happy ending just two weeks later.

Much of chaperoning is a matter of keeping your ears and eyes open, but not necessarily reacting, at least not immediately. We had the happy experience of discovering that my daughter’s teammates are exactly the sorts of kids you enjoy chaperoning. The biggest issue beyond Carrie Bradshaw was that they sometimes got a little noisy from having too much fun together. Otherwise, they seem very much the product of families and a club that stress that winning is the product of personal development.

The funny thing is that this was not a good weekend from a competitive standpoint. By the way, if anyone is looking for an 0’7 setter, they should check out Club Pacific 18’s if she’s still available. The truth of Vegas is that the point of the tournament is not who’s winning, but who’s watching. Still, it’s hard to write about a tournament where I don’t have lots to brag about. Then again, actually I do. This is the weird thing, had we not chaperoned, it would have been a disappointing tournament in some sense. Because we did chaperone, it’s a great memory.

Yes I saw the 6’5” Amanda Gil play backrow and get five digs in four different ways on the same point. Yes, I watched Alexandra Jupiter swing from the right service line and have it land with pace on the left back corner on a big point and could she still be a sophomore? Yes, I saw Kanani Herring who may or may not be 5’9 prove that zero gravity singularities exist in Las Vegas. Yes, it was sort of bittersweet to see the Empire 17’s break through to the final eight with the coaching of Jeff Nielson and Lindsay Smith (my daughter’s high school coach). It’s not that easy when you’ve let your kid go cross-country to play for another club and her 18’s team happened to have struggled that day to go “Hey, great to see you, I’m so proud of how you guys did.” But, I was and we were.

What I want to remember is that I got to chaperone for the first time and saw that my kid had learned to flourish in a completely new place and with new people without us. I think too, in a gym you get to know how the team plays. In a house for three days, you get to know their hearts. I wouldn’t trade that for any number of wins on the court. Wandering the shopping mall inside the Aladdin, making an impromptu decision to go to IHOP between matches on the last day, hosting another team from Colorado aren’t the sort of things that seem to matter in these tournaments, but in certain ways these are even more important memories than “Should I have set the 4 on match point?”.

Some groups are special because they win. Some are special whether or not they do. How many teams out there are like the latter?
Link to my other volleyball articles

USAV chaperone information


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Thursday, March 22, 2007

America Doesn't Say Forever to Stephanie Edwards (American Idol 6 review)

I had an argument with my wife this morning. For some reason, she’s refusing to dress up as Haley Scarnato. Now I’m thinking they let Britney out of rehab yesterday, so she could go to the Kodak theater to get her wardrobe back. In the meantime, we’ve now talked the eleven year old girl who lives two houses up the street to sit in our living room and cry at everything we do, well except for when I get my wife to dress up as Haley. That would be wrong of course and we’d probably have to share a jail cell with the Brittenum brothers.

While most everyone else remembers seeing the Beatles and the Doors on Ed Sullivan, I mostly remember turning the show on to see the latest rock act and always seeming to tune in when it was Herman’s Hermits or Chad and Jeremy. Did you know that Jimmy Page once played as a session guitarist for Herman’s Hermits? Can you imagine Peter Noone’s version of “Whole Lotta Love”?

“Excuse me mate. Jimmy. Can you maybe tone down that guitar solo on “Kind of a Hush”? It sounds like a bloody stringed machine gun.….Right. Thanks much. Cheers. Oh, by the way. You’re not the one who’s been messing with the mixer?”

If Peter Noone and Lulu were really the “British Invasion”, I’m extremely grateful for Bunker Hill and Paul Revere. No, not Paul Revere and the Raiders, the guy on the horse.

AI has always indulged in a fascinating sexual schizophrenia between “wholesome family show” with crying eleven year olds in the front row who get hugged by Sanjaya and minutes later Simon (who sometimes seems closeted himself) gaybaiting Ryan Seacrest . This reflects a longstanding confusion in American pop culture over its simultaneous attraction to and revulsion from gay culture. AI’s sense of this, conscious or not, has been one of many things on the show that has been culturally “pitch” perfect and accounts for some of its ratings staying power.

At another level, American pop culture is curiously self-loathing particularly when it come to things British. The single most mimicked facet of AI in talent-based reality shows is Simon Cowell. Almost every AI knockoff has a judge with an English accent who’s supposed to be more critical/honest than his American peers. The formula is pretty simple, America chooses but some Brit gets to insult America in the process while telling them what to think. Anyone who remembers Benny Hill has to know that this is a very dangerous thing.

While I love much of the music it produced, the “British” invasion is really one of the weirder episodes in pop music history. America was the home of the electric blues. The only problem was that it was sung by black people who couldn’t be on the radio on mainstream stations. Anyway, all these scrawny British guys start imitating it, sometimes lick for lick and it gets re-imported back to America and suddenly they go crazy for it.
The whole weirdness of it all reached its apotheosis when the Rolling Stones decided to honor one of their influences by having B.B. King open for them on their 1969 American tour. King supposedly had never made that much money in his life. Unfortunately, some of the crowds allegedly booed B.B. King because they didn’t want to wait for the Stones.

Further compounding the irony, the British invasion made American Rock and Roll so white that Jimi Hendrix was trapped as an Isley Brothers/Little Richard sideman. He had to go to England to establish bonafides as a black rock and roller.

So I turn on the tv, Tuesday night and I see Lulu showing Lakisha Jones and Stephanie Edwards how to sing like Shirley Bassey (who is black but not American) and Dusty Springfield, British singers influenced by African-American vocalists. The mystery train thus chugs along on mobius strip track.

I can also confess that I’m old enough to have seen Lulu in To Sir With Love in a movie theater in Exeter, New Hampshire in 1968. The scary thing is that she looks better now than she did then. For the many Kellie Pickler fans who got mad at me a couple weeks ago, please tell Kellie to check in with whoever has been working with or on Lulu. In the meantime, I took care not to comment on this while watching the show with my wife.

One other thing… do you do British Invasion night without anyone covering the Beatles? Dancing with the Stars has more connection to Lennon and McCartney than AI’s British Invasion theme show.

So here’s the recap part for those not watching at home:

Chris Richardson- What are they comparing this guy to when they critique him. It’s like, Chris we understand you have a thin-nasal voice, but that was your best yet? Listen to Shirley Horn’s or Ray Charles’s version of “Don’t Let the Sun” sometime. Ironically though, Chris Richardson’s version was probably closer to the original Gerry and the Pacemaker’s take. Still, I wasn’t that shocked to see him in the bottom two. Btw, what was that bottom two-bottom three business and is the sing out now a thing of the past?

Peter Noone also seemed to agree with America. I’ve never heard a guest coach sound quite that openly negative about a contestant. Btw Was that Alaina Alexander with the Richardson family on Wednesday?

Stephanie Edwards- I mentioned last week that I thought she might be vulnerable to an earlier than expected exit. No one believes that this was Edwards’s best performance, but Lulu may have killed Edwards’s chances by making the Beyonce comparison. With the judges saying on two occasions, “You sound too much like other people,” the comment might have been strike three.

If American Idol is an experiment in democracy, then Edwards’s 11th place finish reminds us that democracy and meritocracy are not the same thing. She’s a nineteen year old with uncommon poise, class, and unquestionable talent. Just like in local elections in America though name recognition is seventy percent of the battle. Edwards was bracketed by Lakisha and Melinda on the music side. Jordin Sparks is even younger and not just poised but more exuberant and just as talented. Edwards might have had some of the vote for the pretty one vote, but Haley Scarnato’s version of “Tell Him” included the improvised lyric “lap dances are two for one tonight.”

I am grateful to Stephanie Edwards. It was her performance as the first woman in the semi-final that kept me from giving up on this season.

Blake Lewis- He got major props from the judges for supposedly “modernizing” the Zombie’s “Time of the Season”. Listen to this version of the original. They don’t beat box, but he didn’t really do that much except to add some dance steps. The Zombies’ sound was ahead of its time in many ways with synthesizer like sounds without synthesizers and a more gliding beat.

It seems that once every show Ryan does something exactly right. This time it was dancing and singing after Blake’s judgment time.

Lakisha Jones- Okay, you tell me to sing songs from the British Invasion from the Sixties and have Lulu coach me and then you say “You’ve got to sound more modern than that! You’re kidding right?”

I agree, it was totally unfair, yet it was also right. She sounded fine, but just wasn’t very interesting. Lakisha’s mojo on the show is that she’s the single mom, bank teller, who just happens to sing great. Btw, they keep saying Flint, as in Roger and Me, but she actually lives in Maryland now. I liked her sassy “If I look and sound like this in 45 years, I’d be pretty happy with that,” but it was double-edged. It came off as ever so slightly entitled instead of humble. In the weird universe of Idol, some performers can go there, but she’s not one of them. Perhaps she spent too much time with Diana Ross the previous week.

Phil Stacy- Did they give him amphetamines on Wednesday night? What was with the screaming and hand slapping? In the NFL, the old school coaches like to say, “You get in the end zone, act like you’ve been there before and like you’re planning to be back.”
The over under on this guy is 1.5 more shows.

Gina Glocksen- Is somewhere between Constantine and Bo Bice as a rocker. The judges keep telling her what she is, but when she goes there I’m just not sure she’s all that good at it. I don’t think Paint It Black needs to be melodious in any way, I’m thinking more that covering the Rolling Stones means you riff on Mick Jagger’s showmanship. It isn’t just having energy and singing loud, it’s grabbing the audience by the crotch and refusing to let go for five minutes.

Sanjaya Malakar- Oddly, I kind of think Sanjaya of all people understood this better than Gina. Yes, the whole Michael Jackson vibe is beyond weird, but the Gene Simmons’ tongue action, the prancing/strutting across the stage, the “I don’t care what the judges are going to say this time” caught the spirit of this music. It was almost too bad, he couldn’t have done the Doors. Yes, the singing still wasn’t very good, but this was an actual performance. It was almost Karaoke in a good sense of “I’m going to just have fun.”

In addition, the whole bit with that costume, the goofiness of the performance, and his hugging the crying girl just made for incredible reality television with its breathtaking tastelessness. It was as if John Waters was guest directing the segment. It really did get me.

Jordin Sparks- Simon complained that “I Have Nothing” made him feel totally desolate at the end. That’s the point of the song. It’s pretty clear to me that this is the most accomplished teenager they’ve had on the show. She actually put emotion into a very dark song, she shaped it, built it to a climax, and she can banter with the judges. I also like the healthy big girl self-image she seems to radiate. There is the small matter of her singing at pro-life rallies, but singing’s singing sometimes. Not everyone I listen to needs to be Paul Robeson or Woody Guthrie in their political lives.

Chris Sligh- I’ll say it again. How do you do British Invasion night and get 3 Shirley Bassey, 2 Dusty Springfield (she covered Tell Him), Two Zombies songs and no Beatles? Are they going to do crooners night and not do any Frank Sinatra?

I’d be a little frightened if Chris Sligh walked in front of me while I was sitting in the audience. He has a nice enough voice, but again for a rocker even a Christian rocker he doesn’t bring any angularity or edge to the music. “She’s Not There” is a song that makes all these turns and Sligh smoothed it out except for point where he jumped up and down, threw the mike stand around, and sang loud. Peter Noone asked him what the song was about and Chris went “It’s a sad love song”, but it’s also about suddenly realizing that you’re missing someone. The Zombies had the sudden part in their version.

Melinda Doolittle- She may well be American Idol 6 and she did sing well, but I was disappointed this time. I wanted her to take a chance and she ducked it by breaking out a song from Oliver about sticking with a bad boyfriend. I couple that with the Lyric to W-O-M-A-N from a couple weeks ago and I’m puzzled. These are genuinely weird song choices. As good as she is, I sometimes check the tv to make sure that my wife hasn’t changed the channel to Nickelodeon’s showing old Andy Williams or Mike Douglas shows. You could send Melinda Doolittle back to the sixties and she’d fit right in with Johnny Hartman, Eydie Gorme (who actually had a great voice), and Leslie Uggams.
The only thing she doesn’t do is smoke cigarettes on camera.

After Wednesday, I'm left with this thought. American Idol is far more likely to produce this generation's version of Petern Noone and Lulu than it is to uncover the next Muddy Waters.

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Sir Linksalot American Idol articles

SirLinksalot Stephanie Edwards American Idol


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Monday, March 19, 2007

St. Patrick's Day in Denver

My wife and I were walking through the pedestrian mall that defines the center of downtown Denver where we ran into three large groups of people. First, there were dozens of spandex-clad teenaged volleyball players who had slipped out of the convention center and the Crossroads Regional Qualifier. As a group, they were uniformly healthy looking, taller than usual, and their presence in Denver was a symbol of prosperity. After all, in how many countries do they have volleyball tournaments attended by thousands of young women many of whom come from thousands of miles away? This was also the reason we happened to be in Denver.

It didn't help (or maybe it did) that the escalator inside the Denver Convention Center had a laugh track. Better than elevator music I guess in putting people in a good mood, but it was the first time I've ever experienced anything like that. Supposedly they put it in because the laughter causes people to look down to see where it's coming from and thus it has the byproduct of also making them watch their step on the moving surface. We decided to look around instead.

The second group consisted of hundreds of green-clad St. Patrick’s Day celebrants. As my wife and I tried to walk to what we thought would be the banks of the Platte River, we noticed the mall was filled with bunches of folk, many of them with ruddy complexions and red hair, who seemed to be wandering between a bagpipes player, a full blown celebration complete with Celtic music, and several bars/pubs.

Not being Irish, I always found St. Patrick’s Day confusing as a child. It had something to do with pinching people and Christianity all at the same time which gave me the impression that the Irish must be oddly violent. My parents weren’t Christian, so they never knew to remind me to wear green that day. I remember the favorite trick was that you would put green on your body but cover it up, so when someone tried to pinch you that gave you the right to hit that person. I suspect this was a very local version of the St. Patrick’s ritual though.

One year, my dad,who owned a Chinese restaurant that happened to have a bar, decided that it might be good for business to put up shamrocks, serve Irish stew, and pass out green leprechaun hats. It sort of worked, but he never had the energy to do it again. Still, that was the first time I ever realized that a major part of the holiday had to do with the license it gave even non-Irish people to get drunk on a weekday or in the daytime if it happened to fall on Saturday or Sunday.

In any case, I never did make much sense of how anyone would have driven snakes out of Ireland. I also did some research and at least one version claims that St. Patrick had been a Britain who had been kidnapped by Irish pirates or terrorists early in his life. Allegedly Patrick became Christian and then got his revenge by converting the island to Christianity. Given that modern Irish history is marked by a generations-old war between two different Christian sects (apparently European history is haunted by some Christian version of the struggle between the Sunnis and the Shiites), I’d say that St. Patrick definitely got his revenge for having been kidnapped by Celtic terrorists.

Finally, the third group was a blocks-long column of anti-war protesters. This weekend was the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Many of them were wearing green. Some may have done so because of St. Patrick’s day. Some may have been members of the Green Party. They were marching away from the Union Station at one end of downtown towards the state capitol building. I didn’t see many tv cameras, but there were hundreds of marchers.

More than any American city I’ve been in, Denver still has signs of its origins as a railroad crossing point. Since the Transcontinental Railroad was the product of a mixture of Irish work gangs coming from the Omaha side and Chinese crews working from the Sacramento side, the whole St. Patrick’s day connection sort of resonated for me. Sacramento’s downtown also has a pedestrian mall running through it, though the capitol building is off to the side of the mall rather than at one end of it.

I was momentarily taken with these three strands of people crossing in the middle of Downtown Denver on Saturday March 17 and the way they intertwined. Actually, they literally intertwined on the “alternative-energy” bus system that runs through the middle of the mall. In the last four years, I’ve always felt both extraordinarily fortunate and sad at my daughter’s volleyball tournaments about the big picture. I see thousands of young women whose families have the discretionary income to send them to these tournaments often in hopes of getting a college volleyball scholarship. At the same time, they’re not a whole lot younger than thousands of other young people who are enlisting for military service. The marchers reminded me that both Americas seem to be moving side by side with very little awareness of how the two potentially fit together.

It wasn’t that long ago when bombs exploding in otherwise public places almost always seemed to be in Belfast and had nothing to do with Moslems. In fact, there used to be a joke about a man who gets accosted from behind in a dark alley in Northern Ireland. With the knife touching his back, the assailant says,”Tell me now, be ye Catholic or Protestant.”

Unable to see who is behind him, the man cleverly says “Wow, I must be the luckiest Moslem in all of Ireland.”

It was a beautiful afternoon Saturday. The sky was clear. We could see the Rockies in the distance. It was warm enough that we left our coats behind in the hotel room. We have so much to celebrate. Maybe when my daughter is our age, she’ll be able to think of invasions and terrorism as a thing of the past like snakes in Ireland. Btw I looked it up, the only evidence of snakes in Ireland comes from pre-glacial times, centuries before Christ. Now there’s a weird thought. Could Christianity be the product of whatever happened prior to global warming?

It was so beautiful on Saturday afternoon that I thought someone was going to pinch me to wake me up. Totally off topic, but we watched Ohio State play Xavier later that afternoon at the ESPN zone. Xavier’s the Catholic school, but Ohio State’s players must have been Irish. What we thought was the bridge over the Platte turned out to be a walkway just beyond Union Station.

If this had all been a dream, I imagine it would take me years to figure it all out.


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Friday, March 16, 2007

Brandon Rogers Hurries Off Without Love (American Idol 6 review)

AI Producers Are Wondering Why the Electricity Went Out Much of Tuesday Night

I took a look at my AI post from last week and realized that I hadn't discussed Brandon Rogers. Normally I try to slip in at least a couple words about any remaining Idol, but I also write these things at odd hours and fairly quickly at that. Could Simon be right? If you sing badly even memorably badly, you will likely outlast someone who sings better but not memorably in any way.

Oddly, about the most memorable thing Brandon Rogers did in his Idol run was to forget the words to a Motown song that he claimed to have grown up singing. Making matters worse, Haley Scarnato also dropped lyrics and managed to turn the mistake into an entire Lifetime network movie's worth of monologue.

I was especially impressed by her use of the word "Schmuck" right after Simon unexpectedly turned “mensch”. Oy!

I thought the highlight of the show was Simon and Ryan's attempt to mutually out one another in the presence of Ryan's grandmother. Peter Pace sent me an e-mail after the show to tell me that he was going to contact the Navy Commandant to withdraw Phil Stacy's permission to appear on the show with the two. Unlike the armed forces, Idol’s policy seems to be “Don’t ask, but do tell especially if it involves Ryan.”

Am I the only one who thinks it's peculiar that our military leadership seems to be more concerned about "Don't ask, don't tell" than reports that American servicewomen are being raped and molested by their male service counterparts? Oops, Idol is supposed to be an escape from stuff like that. After all, they call it a "Reality Show".

After jumping on the batwagon in my comments about the singing father of two, it did suddenly strike me that he may actually look more like Connie Conehead's long lost brother from the planet Remulak. If we ever get to meet Phil's parents and their names turn out to be Beldar and Primaat or if we see Phil imbibe mass quantities, I guess we'll know for sure. There may not be evidence of life on other planets, but this week I have to say the Conehead sang pretty well, at least compared to whatever other male life forms are left singing on this show. Meps.

It’s getting more than a bit painful to see the way Sanjaya Malakar has taken to slinking back to the safe seats in embarrassment, head down avoiding eye contact with the camera. I’m reminded of the last days of John Stevens, but Sanjaya’s journey seems even more excruciating because it occasionally feels like he shouldn’t even be singing in public much less on national television. Somehow, he turned the mountains and valleys in the Diana Ross classic into ant hills and divots. It’s hard to have vocal dynamics when you never sing above 70 decibels.

I did notice that I’ve been getting a lot of searches for Sanjaya from India. It occurs to me that every time I call for computer technical support the phone gets picked up in Mumbai. Mmmmm.
Diana Ross did seem to believe that Sanjaya radiates pure love so perhaps his continued presence is a spiritual event that transcends Idol in some way, maybe he’s a Hairy Krishna.

As good a coach as Diana Ross appeared to be, I was a bit taken aback by her singing which wasn’t a whole lot better than Sanjaya’s. In fact, I briefly wondered if she was trying to make the seventeen year old feel better. She does turn sixty three in a few days, but it really made me realize how remarkable Lena Horne was at the same age. The one time harmony singer for the Primettes did make a heck of an entrance though, but that’s where the excitement ended.

I had expected her to be more of a diva as a coach. Instead, the female singer of the century or whatever they kept calling her came off more like a new age guru, unfailingly positive, telling various singers to find the center fo the song, and appearing to give very good technical advice. Even more fascinating was the way she kept telling the ones who didn’t sing so well in her repertoire to move around the stage a lot. In her own performance, she moved around. Much as Elton John anointed Jennifer Hudson his personal favorite three years ago, Diana Ross or the editing made her favorite this year pretty clear. She said Melinda Doolittle gave her goosebumps which was qualitatively different from anything she said about anyone else. Even more revealing, that tete a tete during “More Today than Yesterday” looked an awful lot like a signal to me.

Doolittle also continues to get the “good” edit with softball questions to remind America that she’s an ordinary person who happens to be an incredibly talented singer. I still haven’t seen her sing less than very well. Her version of “Home” was yet another example of the fact that she’s been one of the few singers ever on Idol who’s singing engine has serious horsepower but that it comes with brakes and steering as well. Latoya London’s the other one who comes to mind, but Doolittle is an even more polished performer and seems to have a richer sounding voice. I’m not sure how many more times I want to hear Paula tell Melinda Doolittle, “I’m so moved that you never expected to be getting all this praise and applause?”

In the meantime thanks to Diana Ross, I learned that Lakisha Jones’s mother calls her Kiki. The judges did their “you two are at a different level from everyone else” bit, but as good as she was on “God Bless the Child”, it felt a little odd to me. They praised her for not overpowering it and I would agree that she didn’t, yet that might still have been the fastest and loudest “God Bless the Child”, I’ve ever heard. It was more Blood Sweat and Tears than Billie Holiday with Kiki doing all the brass parts.

Jordin Sparks got huge praise for “If We Hold on Together.” I thought that she actually did better going tender and delicate than Lakisha Jones did. The judges now seem to be giving her a chance to break up the Lakisha-Melinda final. I think if it happens, it won’t necessarily be the singing. Sparks has the most outgoing personality in front of the camera and it might give her sometihg of an Elliott-Vonzell Solomon factor. Voters may find her so likeable they’ll want to be protective. Of course, they both finished third.

I don’t know if Stephanie Edwards chose the wrong song in “Love Hangover”, but I think at this stage the bigger problem is she hasn’t found a hook. She’s not the young super-likeable one. She’s not the great singer who looks like an ordinary person. She’s not even the Geek in the Pink who loves his grandmother. Although I’ve said that she looks like she was built from a blueprint for an AI winner, she may be a candidate for an earlier than expected exit. If it happens, it’ll be a shame because I think she may well have a couple truly memorable performances in her.

While the judges called it a great and beautiful love ballad, I’ve always thought of “Endless Love” as an incredibly sappy song. In trying to modernize it, Chris Sligh got the endless part, but none of the love. The humble Chris Sligh feels a bit insincere to me. I even found myself wondering about “Hey we have the same hair” as his first words to Diana Ross. Actually humble people would be a little more awestruck. The bigger problem is that his last two weeks of singing have been disappointingly uninvolving. Putting the glasses back on for Wednesday night also bugged me for some reason.

As soon as Diana Ross heard Chris Richardson sing “The Boss”, she went straight into “You need to move around a lot.” Different kind of singer, but I’m getting this Constantine Maroullis vibe as a performer who comes across on camera yet who in final analysis just doesn’t sing all that well.

Blake Lewis is getting packaged as a “serious musician”. I didn’t like what he did with “You Keep Me Hangin On” at least partly because he didn’t get any angularity or surprise into his arrangement. I wanted to be knocked off center by it and somehow it never got daring in any noticeable way. I’m still betting that he’ll be the last male.

On Gina Glocksen’s “Love Child” I kept listening carefully to see if she was missing any words. While what Diana Ross told her was perfectly true, it felt like Glocksen had only two goals- say all the words right and sing it as loudly as she could. Actually, Diana Ross is the only person I’ve ever heard sing the song well, because she was able to make it danceable yet vulnerable at the same time. This was neither.

A Motown night is supposed to be one of the easier tests in the finals for most singers. I’m a little surprised by how many of the finalists just didn’t take advantage of material that Idol singers usually do quite well with. I thought Stephanie Edwards and Brandon Rogers would have been especially strong and they just weren’t, fatally so for the male backup singer. And how the heck do you forget words to Motown-type songs? I don’t even know what to say about the guys as a group, but the night as a whole make me worry that they’ll be some pretty dull shows ahead.

Sadly, I thought Brandon Rogers was the one guy who had a chance to suddenly pleasantly surprise me somewhere in the finals at least partly because he kept underperforming. It was very weird for me that a guy who has been on the stage hundreds of times appeared to have so much trouble with his nerves throughout the competition. In many ways, in a year where they repeatedly remind us how “nice” Melinda and Sanjaya are, it struck me that Brandon consistently came off as the nicest of the Idols. He exited with class, but as I think back to Diana Ross’s big arms and gown entrance, I’m thinking that I couldn’t ever imagine Brandon Rogers actually loving the spotlight that way. Naturally, he didn’t even get his sing off.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Rock and Sushi (fiction)

Rock and Sushi

“Mr. Tang, is that you?”

I recognize the voice, but not the person it comes from. Well, that’s not exactly true.

“Is that you, Elvis?”

He laughs at me, not because I’ve actually been able to remember the name of one of my high school students from ten years ago- he’s one of dozens of Elvis impersonators lining the sidewalk outside the upstairs club known as “Rock and Sushi.”

I’ve never been upstairs. I just happened to be downtown to return something for my wife at the Plaza Mall a block away.

“That’s a good one, Mr. Tang. You always were the only teacher who made me laugh.”

I smile inwardly and tell myself that’s got to narrow it down dramatically. I didn’t last that long as a teacher. It’s too hard to have ADD and manage a hundred and fifty kids a day. I suppress the urge to say “Please don’t be offended by this, but who the hell are you?”

In the meantime, I survey the landscape of Elvii growing out of my sidewalk like a scene from an especially weird Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There’s the usual run of tight-pantsed snarling Elvis’s with jet black hair and two-toned shoes. There are at least half a dozen in white-sequined jumpsuits and sunglasses. I see one from the dvd cover of Blue Hawaii. In the midst of the mainstream Elvis tribute artists, there are several mutant variations. Yes, I’d seen Elvez, the Mexican Elvis impersonator on tv and so it didn’t surprise me to see him and a handful of black and Asian ones. There were also several female Elvises. On closer inspection, a couple of the ones with feather boas and eye makeup were probably transvestites on loan from a Rocky Horror party. Of the rest, I think my favorite was punk Elvis with nose ring and facial tattoo, though I also liked Nerd Elvis.

I sigh. My former student pops out of line by putting out his hand palm down straight out just like in GI Blues and says in his perfect Elvis voice, “Hold my place a couple minutes here, son.”

Punk Elvis says “Fuck you. You wannabe.”

“Ahm gonna pretend that ah didn’t hear that, son. My mama, always told me to never fight if I don’t have to, bless her soul.”

“Jesus, Dewey. You got to be such an asshole all the time. Just hold the guy’s place in line. It’s not like you have a chance in this thing.”

My former student Elvis points and nods at his colleague. Maybe it’s because Punk Elvis is no taller than five three and my former student is regulation Elvis sized, but Dewey backs off.

“Whoever he is. My ex-student’s damned good at this. He didn’t break character for a second there,” I think to myself.

Elvis’s handshake is like a vise. He pats me on the back in the same motion.

“Mr. Tang, I wouldn’t expect you to remember me. Not like this anyway.”

He then quickly whispers in my ear, “Plastic surgery a couple years ago and I dye my hair.”

I look at the face close up for the first time and try to imagine him with lighter hair, less prominent chin, and a different nose. I figure he can’t be one of my A students or even one of my B students. I try to remember the names of the guys who sat against the wall, barely listening, drawing pictures of burning joints in their notebooks.

“Sam, is that you?”

“Wow, Mr. Tang. I knew you were smart, but how the heck did you figure that one out?”

I’m actually more than a little proud of myself. I only taught high school one year and it was more than ten years ago.

“Honestly, I’m not sure,” I have to tell him.

I actually don’t remember Sam Phillips ever speaking up once in my U.S. Government class. If I remember him at all it’s because I decided not to flunk him so he could graduate. I had this theory that teachers should be bound by the same oath as doctors, “First, do no harm.”

Plastic surgery to look like Elvis? Had I done harm anyway? And yes, I did vaguely remember making a joke about Sam Phillips being the founder of Sun Records that first time I did the roll in my third period government class that year. I also remember Sam and the class not understanding the reference at all. It wasn’t until well after I stopped teaching that I realized that most of my jokes referred to things with which my students couldn’t possibly be familiar.

“If any teacher was going to remember me from Monroe High School, I figured it would be you Mr. Tang.”

“Sam, all I remember doing for you was giving you a passing grade.”

I started to say “And you earned that yourself…” but stopped myself.

Sam turns, snaps his fingers, and points his index finger outwards. I notice that he’s dressed as a perfect movie period Elvis, but it’s not mimicry. I’m pretty sure Elvis never wore any of these particular items in his movies, though I’m no expert. Back when my cousin Karen used to baby sit me, she used to drag me to the Crest Theater in downtown Sacramento to see his movies the week they were released. Probably because of that, I’ve never exactly been a fan.

“Guys, I want you to meet my favorite teacher from high school.”

“Sam, you can call me Lucky if you want. It makes me feel old to be called Mr. Tang.”

He starts to say my first name, then as if he’s doing Stanislavsky he stops right after the “L” sound….”No sir. Ah’d like to stick with Mr. Tang a while longer, it’s my way of showing respect.”

I shrug as I find myself shaking hands with three of the mainstream Elvii from the line.
Was Sam Phillips this well-mannered? Well, actually no male high school student who didn’t carry a Bible to class was this well-mannered. Sam definitely wasn’t one of those.

“Nice to meet you sir,” says one of the young Elvis clones. He’s in a red jacket and is carrying a guitar. “Sam’s talked about you before.”

“Did Sam have two teachers named Mr. Tang?”

It’s meant as a joke, but young Elvis stays completely serious, “No sir, he says you were the one who inspired him. You really done good there, Sir. Sam’s the best there is.”

“You mean, he’s the best Elvis impersonator?”

A white jump suited Elvis named Bobby breaks into the conversation, “With all due respect Mr. Tang, we prefer to call ourselves “Elvis Tribute Artists.” Impersonators is like something out of a drag show. I know you probably didn’t realize that.”

“Tribute artists it is then.”

“But, yeah. Sam’s been my role model. I’m not the only one either. Wouldn’t have made it nearly this far without him.”

I almost ask how it’s possible to be someone’s role model in a field where you spend all your time impersonating one famous person, but I stop myself. It’s turned from almost dark to night. A couple of the Elvii are practicing their singing. Cars honk at them in the passing traffic. Every now and then someone shouts a request through an open car window.

Oddly enough, I can tell that this guy doesn’t quite have Elvis’s speech rhythm or diction down the way Sam does. At two points, he slips into his regular manner of speaking with a “you know” and a “for sure.”

I nod.

“So, if you’re the man who taught Sam and he’s the one who taught us….”

I look at the line of Elvis Tribute Artists and sigh.

“Well guys….” I have my exit line worked out. I’ll explain that I have to pick up my daughter when Bobby breaks in again.

“Sam’s the one who showed me that there was more to this than just sounding and looking like the King.”

I nod but have no idea what I’m nodding to.

“You have to capture his greatness too, his spirit. Elvis had dignity. He was a truly great American singer, because he believed in all the great American virtues. If you want to be Elvis, you have to be true to those things too.”

“And those are?”

The three tribute artists say it in unison, “Respect for those who raised you, love of country, honor the people who work to make this country what it is, and understanding that rock and roll has to be felt below the waist.”

One of them comes forward and says, “You know we don’t have saints in this country, just celebrities.”

I slip my cell phone back into my pants pocket. It’s a line I shared with my class once. “The kid was listening some of the time.”

“And people in this country have to believe in something, it starts with believing in yourself.” the Elvis tribute artist finishes the riff with a flourish that I certainly never said.

Why is it that I suddenly remember that Sam Phillips was one of those kids who was totally into Nirvana. He used to draw copies of their album covers on his notebook and write out Kurt Cobain lyrics. Now I remember, I asked my students to find a song that expressed the spirit of the constitution and explain the relationship and Sam was the one who turned in “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The problem was that he didn’t attempt to write about it at all. It was pretty much the only thing he ever turned in and there were even some spelling and grammar mistakes in his transcription.

“Load up on guns” and “I know I know A Dirty Word” would have been easy enough places to start, but Sam didn’t even try. Instead, he just signed his paper “Sam, “The albino mosquito” Phillips, thanks for teaching me Mr. Tang.”

Fifteen minutes later I am calling my wife on my cell phone. She can barely hear me over the transvestite Elvis singing “U.S. Male,” an act which gets almost as big a laugh as the black Elvis doing “In the Ghetto.”

“Where the hell are you? I know you’re not out on a cold and windy Chicago morning.”

It’s a reasonable enough question.

“I’m at Rock and Sushi. You know the place downtown. It’s a long story, but do you want to come down?”

“No, and why didn’t you call?”

“I ran into one of my students. He’s in an Elvis contest here. If you leave now, you can catch his act.”

“I hope you’re kidding.”

I count roughly twice as many people in the club as there are Elvis Tribute Artists. My guess is that the owners of the Rock and Sushi make their thousand dollar prize money back just selling beer and peanut butter and banana sushi rolls to the contestants. The Sushi Chef is wearing an Elvis mask over a karate gi. The emcee is dressed as Ann Margaret and has the breathiness in her voice down just right,”I know you’re all waiting to hear Sam Phillips, but he’s not the only great act we have.”

As Sam takes a seat at our table, I signal the cocktail waitress for the check. For a few minutes it’s blessedly quiet as they reset up the stage for the open division.

“Mr. Tang, it’s taken care of….You don’t pay here.”

“Sam, I’m really sort of surprised. I never imagined that cheeseburger in sushi could taste any good at all.”

“Sir, they have the finest chefs at Rock and Sushi, that guy behind the counter was a finalist for a spot on the Food Network.”

I wince.

“I had no idea you were this big of a star.”

“Sir, I’m no star. Elvis is the only star worthy of the name.”

“So, how many of these do you do?”
“I had a hundred and thirteen dates last year. I got to do the big contest in Memphis. I didn’t even have to qualify.”

He says it almost too quickly.

“Aren’t you going to have something?”

“No sir, I never eat before I perform.”

“Sam, I just need to let you know that I might have to get my daughter a little later.”

“It’s okay sir. I understand completely. I have a daughter too, Lisa Marie.”

“You named your daughter Lisa Marie?”

“I adore her.”

“Your wife was okay with that?”

“I have a rule in life. When in doubt it’s WWED.”

“As in What Would Elvis Do?”

He nods excitedly as he does a martial arts move for emphasis.

“Priscilla was fine with it. It was back when she understood.”

He looks down at the plate of sushi in front of me then turns to sign an autograph and pose for a picture with a teenaged girl in an Elvis t-shirt.

“You sure you’ve had enough sir? You can’t imagine what an honor this is for me.”

“Sam, I don’t want to pry, but you seemed to be saying that your wife doesn’t understand now.”

“It was the plastic surgery. She started telling me it was time for me to grow up. I’m afraid she left me.”

I steeple my hands and make like some master of Texas Hold’em.

“You see sir, I know you’d understand. Most people don’t.”

“Understand what?”

I can see his eyes widen with astonishment. His cheeks would probably move too, but the cosmetic surgery prevents it.

“You told us to find and follow our passions.”

“First do no harm, first do no harm,” I whisper it so Sam can’t hear me.

“I never knew what you meant, until I found mine.”

Back when I used to say it, I was thinking about painters, social workers, joining the Peace Corps. While I had had stray thoughts about kids who wanted to work for the NRA or wanted to collect baseball cards the rest of their lives, this possibility had never occurred to me. There was so much I needed to ask, but before I could the orange hot-pantsed waitress came to our table to say “Sam, you’re on in fifteen minutes.”

He jumps up from the table and said,”Sir, if you want anything and I mean anything, Linda here will take care of you.”

Linda makes eye contact with me and winks. I find myself wondering if some high school teacher in Mississippi ever got a Cadillac from his student who became a singing sensation.

The first couple acts after the break are generally pretty good. One guy sounds like Elvis but looks nothing like him. The other guy sounds and looks nothing like him, but he does a really good Heartbreak Hotel. Some of the crowd stands at the end. Then it’s “Back in his hometown. Straight here from working in the Nicholas Cage movie “Married in Vegas”, winner of seven Elvis tribute contests, Santa Tyrone’s own Sssssam Phillips.”

Sam’s changed his outfit backstage to early Elvis. He’s shed his yellow sport shirt and slightly tight checked pants for a red jacket, black boots, and even tighter pants. He approaches the mike, flicks his hair out of the way with his hand and twitches his mouth. It’s perfect Elvis. The crowd goes wild.

“Thank you, thank you very much.” He does the bashful young Elvis even better.

“This is a very special night for me. I’m performing for the first time for the man who inspired me….” He pauses and the audience goes silent on his cue.

“Well, second to the King of course,” he then flicks at his guitar and holds his right arm cocked just above his shoulder while jutting out his left hip. The crowd breaks into laughter.

“He’s good, he’s really good,” I tell myself as I drop my head and turn my face away from the stage and the audience.

“Anyway, there he is, Mr. Lucky Tang, the greatest teacher ever at Monroe High School.”

Several members of the audience start booing and I’m not sure whether they’re booing the school, which did suck, or my name.

I feel a spotlight on my face. I stand, bow quickly in Sam’s direction, and sit down again. “He’s good. He’s really good I tell myself.”

“Well, speaking of high school, I’m going to do a little Jailhouse Rock.”

Screams fill the club as Sam begins to snap his fingers and the plastic beat of a high quality karaoke machine begins to kick in. A couple words in and I’m stunned by how much my former student sounds exactly like Elvis, moves exactly like Elvis, and has every facial nuance down perfectly. The crowd excitement builds even further as a couple middle-aged women come up to the stage and start screaming and dancing at the same time.

Eight bars in, I begin to notice the problem. Sam sounds like Elvis, moves like Elvis, and does the whole sneer thing with his mouth better than anyone I’ve ever seen, maybe even better than Elvis, but…..he can’t sing very well at all. The notes are right, but there’s something very obviously wrong with where they fall. It doesn’t match the music. You don’t feel like dancing at all.

The women are still screaming and dancing up front, but they’re doing less of it. At one back table, I see people start to talk to one another without even looking at the stage. I begin to hear the clink of glasses and the sound of the cash register.

Sam, though is a professional. He keeps up with his performance like a figure skater who pulls himself up after blowing the triple salchow. The voice stays perfect, the gestures never falter, but I can see the despair in his face. He still gets a healthy round of applause.

As he walks off the stage, his friends surround him, patting him on the back, assuring Sam that he still has it, that he’s the only deserving winner. I do my bit as well. I applaud as hard as I can. I stand up at my table and yell, “Go Sam, Go Sam, follow your ….”

But I don’t finish it. I’m being too obvious. I’m now worried that he’s caught me faking my Presgasm. He stays backstage until the end of the show and somehow I know I can’t leave without talking to my former student one more time. Sam finishes third behind a very good Las Vegas Elvis who did My Way and humiliatingly enough Dewey Dontwey, the punk Elvis’s, Heartbreak Hotel done Alvin and the Chipmunks’ style.

Sam stands on the stage and holds up his small trophy and a check for fifty dollars. I motion to Linda the waitress.

“I really want to pay for this myself. Is there some way to do it without letting Sam know?”

She nods sadly and whispers.

“Let me see what I can do. You know, Sam’s the greatest guy.”

With most of the crowd now gone, Sam comes to my table. One of his friends is still with him.

“Man, you were robbed. You were the only one tonight who had the spirit of Elvis down. You were the only one who cared about Elvis. The people who run the big time contests see that, they appreciate the things that matter. Those other two guys were complete posers.”

“Bobby, I gotta speak to Mr. Tang alone here a little bit. I’ll catch you later,” he tells his friend.

Sam reaches his hand out to shake mine one more time.

“I’m sure it was an off night and you were still great,” I use the line that I’d been rehearsing for the last half hour.

He shakes his head.

“Don’t bullshit me Mr. Tang. It’s not worthy of you.”

“Sam, you’ve got some great friends.”

He nods.

“The Monroe mafia is the best.”

There’s an awkward silence as Linda brings Sam a beer.

“You know Mr. Tang. I tell people it’s the plastic surgery that’s causing problems with the voice, but I got to be honest. I really can’t sing. Couple nights I got lucky or someone who knew how to set the mix just right could help me cover it up. I spent thousands of dollars on lessons.”

“Sam your voice sounds just like Elvis. You’re obviously not tone deaf.”

“Yeah, I know. The teacher said it was the weirdest thing she’d ever seen. It’s like I’m beat deaf. I can dance good, just like Elvis even. I even play pretty good. I just can’t sing in rhythm.”


“Lady, told me I was just out of synch. I’m time deaf.”

“There’s got to be something you can do.”

“Afraid not.”

“You can still be a lookalike…You could lipsynch. You’d be the best.”

Sam shakes his head vigorously, “I’ve thought about it and WWED….The king would never fake or settle for second best. I’d know the difference.”

“I’m sorry Sam.”

He clinks his glass to mine.

"Honestly, all those dates I get are for lookalike gigs."

“You still got to follow your passion though,"I tell him as I look down at the table.

We drink.

“You know Mr. Tang, after I won my first Elvis contest four years ago, I came by Monroe High School to tell you about it, but you weren’t there….”

I nod.

“What happened, I thought teaching was your passion?”

This wasn’t the first time someone in my life had asked me that question after I went back to law school. I’d told all of them, “Well, I just wasn’t very good at it. I had a family.”

Instead I just shrug, “Well, sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you planned.”

I pause…”But tell me something Sam. What’s been the best thing about following your passion.”

He doesn’t hesitate, “You know one night this gray haired grandmother came up to me after my show with two teenaged granddaughters. She hugs me and says, “Thank you so much. Now, they can know what I felt when I was their age. Lady has tears in her eyes. Tells me that she went to Vegas twenty three times.” That was the moment when I told myself “I want to do this forever.”

Sam takes another drink to finish off his beer.

“You know, that’s what I’ve got to do too. I might never be the best at it, but Elvis would never have quit. He was an American Saint.”

I start to get up.

“Sam I gotta go.”

“You were the best teacher Mr. Tang. The best teacher I could ever have had,” he tells me.

I’m back on the sidewalk, back where the night started, on a now Elvis-free street. A tear slips across my non-Elvis cheeks. If only I knew who I’m crying for. The night sky is filled with stars, all of them light years away.


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