Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Thoughts from a taping of the Colbert Report...

Last night, due to the gracious offer of my friend Megan, I got to see The Colbert Report in person!
For certain work-related reasons we were able to get ourselves in an VIPs for the event. Which meant that I got to get my picture taken on the set after the show (awesome), that we were able to avoid sitting in the holding pen with the other guests before the show starts (really quite awesome), and that we were seated front row center for the show (yes, also awesome)! It was an overall amazing experience as well as a chance to finally cross "go see a tv show" off my list of 432 Things Everyone Should Do if They Live in New York. Thanks again, Megan!

A couple thoughts:
  • Unlike a lot of celebrities that uphold the cliché and do look smaller in real life, I actually thought that Stephen Colbert was bigger than I would have expected. Even though he seemed like a genuinely nice and friendly guy, he had a lot of presence and was actually kind of intimidating. Jon Stewart (who made a surprise guest appearance midway through the show) was also sort of intimidating. They both, however, had extremely nice suits on, so perhaps that was part of the intimidation? (note to self: get nicer suit)
  • Being in the front row was fun, but a little nerve-racking. The extremely friendly staffer that was helping us out all evening told us that, because the crowd was low-energy that night, he was hoping Megan and I could make up for it by being extremely energetic in our clapping and laughter (and hooting, and booing, and hissing, etc.) Although I think we did a pretty good job of it, I remained slightly worried all show that I would fail to be loud enough (a problem, in every other walk of life, that I never have to worry about).
  • You really feel the effect of the writer's strike when you see the show live. There were constant references to it by Colbert himself and others. We even got to see Colbert and Jon Stewart discuss what the heck they were going to talk about during "the toss" (where Stewart talks to Colbert at the end of The Daily Show about what's coming up next), something that is rarely done any more because it's apparently too much of a chore without writers. Even after the show was over, Colbert's last words to the audience was a half-joke that we should "come back when we have writers!" Still, Colbert natural comedic gifts, combined with the wired feeling that I had at just being a part of the show in some way, had me laughing at basically every word that came out of his mouth. A great time all in all, and definitely worth doing if you get the chance!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Well Done, Nole!

Novak Djokovic, aka "Nole," aka my current favorite tennis player, just rolled through the field and won the Australian Open, knocking off the immortal Roger Federer in straight sets along the way!

The fact that he's the first Serbian player to win a men's singles title strikes me as kind of cool as well, though why that is I can't really say. Doesn't everybody root for Serbian stars in every sport (assuming their name isn't Darko Milicic) anyway? I kind of see Serbia as the inner-city of the Europe, so when a player comes out of there and achieves success (even if their background wasn't exactly destitute) it seems a little cooler somehow.

Anyway, as he's only starting to break into the mind of the American sports fan, I thought I'd show another clip of Djokovic goofing around before a match that shows the humorous, self-aware qualities that make him my current favorite player on the tour (with no disrespect meant to the brilliant Federer or the nearly as brilliant Raphael Nadal):

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Beat of a Different Drum

I can't imagine a world without rhythm. A beat can turn into a melody and then, with the help of lyrics, into one of those ditties that get stuck in your head for weeks. Electronic music takes simple beats and pulls you onto the dance floor. Yesteryear's tribal drummers have given way to today's synth and tape-loop geeks, who are skilled in whipping a group of people into a celebratory dance floor frenzy. A catchy melody and plaintive lyrics have always been my soft spot, but I've been a big fan of rhythm for quite a long time (P-Funk, Krautrock, and Animal Collective in particular). Because of this, my interest in electro's pop sensibilities (not to mention that rhythm) has blossomed over the last few years. I will admit I like to dance, but I've only done it in public since New Order, The Knife, and Justice moved me to do so.

Lately, my appreciation has nearly become an obsession. It started a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon a song that melted my ears from the first listen. Cable Dazed by Invisible Conga People delivers a driving beat beneath simple rhythm guitar and casually intense vocals. ICP (not that ICP) is part of the newish Jersey label Italians Do It Better, whose roster is full of modern interpreters of the Italo Disco genre. Cable Dazed was so simple and seductive I began to hunt for my next electro fix, deciding to focus on its roots.

Much of the synth-pop attached to the early 80s was influenced by electronic music and disco from the late 70s. All of these were greatly indebted to an Italian DJ named Giorgio Moroder, who produced musicians like Donna Summer and The Human League, scored films like Midnight Express and the classically indulgent Scarface, and even had time for a few solo albums. The revival of disco beats and cheesy synth wouldn't be as interesting or widespread if not for this mustachioed maestro.

And so I dug for more music, finding neo-disco on Australian and French blogs. It made me want to dance, which in turn made we want to make others dance. So I’ve put together an electro dance mix for you and your weekend. Some songs are old, some are new, and some haven't even been released yet. Hopefully it will make you cut a rug or two and maybe investigate electronic music yourselves. It's meant to be played in the order you see it, so I'm giving it to you in an easy to open ZIP file (just import the XML file from the folder into your iTunes). You can request a CD if you'd prefer that, but I'll have to be in a good mood to give you one (I've been pretty happy lately, so it shouldn't be a problem). So plug in your stereo, move the coffee table, and let my earliest electronic fascination (the old Dr. Who theme) usher in over an hour of body-moving music. Let's dance.

1. Dr. Who Theme (Jon Pertwee episodes)
2. Love Juice - SymbolOne
3. Lights And Music - Cut Copy
4. Air War - Crystal Castles
5. Cable Dazed - Invisible Conga People
6. I Feel Love - Donna Summer
7. From Here To Eternity - Giorgio Moroder
8. Trick or Treats - Metronomy
9. Only Me To Trust - Ghosthustler
10. Everything Louder Than Everything Else - SymbolOne
11. Being Boiled - The Human League
12. Hold On - Holy Ghost
13. I Believe - Simian Mobile Disco
14. The Girls - Calvin Harris
15. Lady Operator - Mirage
16. Lay All Your Love On Me - Abba


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Nilsson Sings Newman

Somehow I missed this a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to recommend that everyone head over to The Onion when you get a momemt to read their excellent appraisal of Nilsson Sings Newman, aka "Harry Nilsson's greatest record" (which I will defend forever regardless of anyone's feelings about Nilsson Schmilsson).

Nilsson Sings Newman, released in 1970, consists of Harry Nilsson trying his hand at the Randy Newman songbook. As these songs are taken exclusively from Randy Newman's critically (if not commercially) successful early records, most of these songs are not familiar even to people familiar with Newman's work. Regardless, with Nilsson's incredible vocal range and with Newman himself playing the piano, the results are stunning-one of the greatest vocal performances you'll ever hear on a pop record and made even better because of the unimpeachable quality of Randy Newman's songwriting.

Check out Love Story (mp3) and The Beehive State (mp3) to get an example of the overall quality of this record, one that ranks with my all-time favorite albums. Also, make sure to check out For the Love of Harry, a fantastic Harry Nilsson blog that covers all things Nilsson and posts some great music on the site as well!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Internet Ripoffs

The internet has reached a strange in-between place where, even though we increasingly do a lot, for some even a majority, of our shopping online (for tickets, gifts, books & music), we're still stuck with an incredible lack of options when it comes to what major services to choose from. In some cases there are alternatives (don't want to use Amazon for books? shop at Powell's!), but in other cases you're pretty much screwed.

The absolute worst situations are any sort of ticketing services, in particular Ticketmaster for concert tickets and Fandango for movie tickets. Everyone and their mother already knows that Ticketmaster is the King of the Rip-off, charging inexplicable surcharges and processing fees that have made them the bane of every concert goer's existence. Alas, they're the only game in town so what can you do except go to less shows or try to buy tix at the door or from the venue's own website? Thankfully, most of my favorite bands are refreshingly disliked/unpopular and I can thus usually walk right up to a concert hall and buy my tickets at the door.

My current gripe, however, is with Fandango, a movie-ticket purchasing site that has seemed to explode on the internet of late. Fandango is just as egregious a ripoff as Ticketmaster, but in a more subtle way. Recently, and presumably as a way to pay for all the advertising they do during movie previews (doesn't everyone, by the way, hate commercials during previews anyway?), Fandango has raised their processing fee to $1.50 per ticket!

This may not seem like much at first, but if you see as many movies as my friends and I do in New York, combined with the fact that everything sells out so fast here, you really have no choice but to go online and pay their absurd processing fee every time. That, combined with the times when you buy more than one ticket for your friends and significant others means that you spend 100-200 dollars a year just on movie surcharges! (way more, by the way, than almost anyone spends on Ticketmaster in a year). Even taking into account my well-deserved reputation for cheapness, that's pretty bad, right? Movies are already prohibitively expensive and popcorn and drinks are already absurdly priced-how can anyone justify spending 15-20 bucks a person to see a movie that is going to be a letdown almost half the time?

So, anyway, those are the two internet services that drove me crazy of late. What other ways does the internet rip us off? Inquiring minds (ok, an inquiring mind) wants to know!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Any Questions?

I thought it would be a good time to remind everyone, as they head into a three-day weekend filled, ideally, with thought and reflection, to think about any questions you might have for the Better Chatter team! In the past, Bryan has provided brilliant (and correct) answers to two different questions and I'm chomping at the bit (which is a disgusting, though accurate, analogy) to do the same.

Send us an email at with any questions you have about life, love, the universe, the elections, or, of course, Detroit sports and we will respond to your email within precisely 24 hours! (give or take three days)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Stephin Merritt Playlist

Now that Distortion, the new Magnetic Fields record, is finally in stores, I thought it might be fun to include, much like I did for Bob Dylan, the Stephin Merritt playlist that I have been assembling and improving ever since I got my ipod.

The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs remains my all-time favorite record, and thus my playlist is heavily built around it. In addition, there is a lot of stuff from The 6th's Hyacinths and Thistles on here as well. Hyacinths and Thistles, a criminally underrated record, has a very similar musical sensibility as 69 Love Songs and also features "You you you you you," my favorite Stephin Merritt track. The one quibble I can see is arising is with my only having one track from Charm of the Highway Strip. I'm not sure why it is, but playing this record always seems to make me depressed. It starts off sad with "Lonely Highway" and just goes downhill from there.

Anyway, here are the tracks (with selected commentary). Somehow I decided that 40 was a good, solid number for this mix, which is probably a little dumb considering that I've made it just about impossible to put on a cd for someone. Regardless, 40 it is. Give me an email if you think I've made some sort of egregious error, whether it be one of inclusion or track listing (all songs are by The Magnetic Fields unless listed otherwise):

1. Absolutely Cuckoo (69 Love Songs, Vol. 1) I knew that this record was meant for me as soon as I heard the hilarious fatalism in the first verse of the first track (Don't Fall in Love With Me Yet/We've Only Recently Met/True I'm in Love With You, But/You Might Decide I'm a Nut/Give me a Week or Two to/Go Absolutely Cuckoo). This is kind of a litmus test song for The Magnetic Fields. If you hear this song and think it's funny or true or what have you, you'll probably love this band. Conversely, if you're put off by the sentiment and darkness of this song, this probably won't be your kind of band. (mp3)

2. Strange Powers (Holiday) Funny, with great lyrics and a upbeat and catchy sound. An ideal "take it up a notch" song for a playlist. (mp3)
3. You you you you you [The 6ths] (Hyacinths and Thistles) As I said above, this is probably my favorite Merritt-penned song. The lyrics are about as happy as he ever gets and the song is backed by an incredibly pleasing harp-sounding instrument (ok, fine, so I don't actually know what the instrument is). (mp3)
4. Busby Berkeley Dreams (69 Love Songs, Vol. 3) An extremely affecting look at the way in which we romanticize our past, especially when it comes to old relationships. The opening lines ("I should have forgotten you long ago/But you're in every song I know") still sting me when I hear them.
5. Ukulele Me! [Stephin Merritt] (Showtunes)

6. I Die (I)
Even though Merritt's voice is about as deep as you'll hear in pop music, there are times, especially on this song, where I really think he succeeds at sounding kind of tender. The lyrics, however, easily undercut anything sweet you might have expected to go along with that tenderness.
7. A Pretty Girl Is Like ... (69 Love Songs, Vol. 1)

8. Wi' Nae Wee Bairn Ye'll Me Beget (69 Love Songs, Vol. 3) A classic example of the very, very funny side of Stephin
Merritt's songwriting. If there's a better parody of Irish folk songs, I'd love to hear it.
9. He Didn't [The 6ths] (Hyacinths and Thistles) Bob Mould's singing on this track, especially on the line "I'll make only sunny weather for you"
is a perfect example of how good Merritt is at matching the right singer to the right song.
10. I Don't Believe You (I) "So you quote 'love' unquote me
" is such an amazing opening line. It's not only funny, it instantly hooks the listener into the song's story as well.
11. Please Stop Dancing (Distortion) My favorite song off of Distortion (so far).
I almost feel like I'm cheating because this one has as little "distortion" on it as any other track on the album.
12. Epitaph For My Heart (69 Love Songs, Vol. 2)

13. It's A Crime (69 Love Songs, Vol. 3)

14. When You're Old And Lonely (Get Lost) This is just the kind of bitter song I couldn't get enough of in college. Does it matter that I was too young to know what it meant to be bitter?
15. The Death Of Ferdinand De Saussure (69 Love Songs, Vol. 3) EVERYBODY ON THE PLANET loves the handclaps that come after "I'm just a great composer
" line on this track.
16. Lonely Highway (The Charm of the Highway Strip)

17. Shall We Sing a Duet? [Stephin Merritt] (Showtunes) I don't go back to the Showtunes album very often, but it has a lot of nice songs like this that come and go in less than a minute and slip really well onto playlists
18. Meaningless (69 Love Songs, Vol. 3)

19. I Wish I Had An Evil Twin (I)

20. Yeah! Oh, Yeah! (69 Love Songs, Vol. 3) My favorite Claudia Gonson song, without a doubt. The (very dark) lyrics were acted out by Merritt and Gonson
when I saw them, with predictably hilarious results. (mp3)
21. Too Drunk To Dream (Distortion)
22. For We Are The King Of The Boudoir (69 Love Songs, Vol. 3) Another very funny track, this time working in the style of, it appears, a Renaissance song. It appears there is no better style in which to hide some phenomenally arrogant lyrics ( "One kiss from me and you'll be overjoyed and overawed/One kiss from me and you'll see God"
23. All I Want To Know (Pieces of April)

24. I Think I Need A New Heart (69 Love Songs, Vol. 1) One of the classic "upbeat melody/depressing lyrics" songs and a great song about miscommunication
in relationships and the fear of saying what you really want to say.
25. Desert Island (Holiday)

26. Three-Way (Distortion)

27. The Luckiest Guy On The Lower East Side (69 Love Songs, Vol. 1) An absolutely perfect song (how's that for analysis!). The peak near the end (when Dudley Klute sings the "Want to go for a riiiiiiide
" line for the last time and holds the note for about 20 seconds) never ceases to amaze.
28. Heather Heather (Pieces of April)
The Pieces of April soundtrack doesn't have a lot of new stuff on it, but the new tracks that appear on there, three of which are on this list, are almost all gems.
29. As You Turn to Go (Hyacinths and Thistles)

30. We Are The Gothic Archies [The Gothic Archies] (A Tragic Treasury: Songs From A Series Of Unfortunate Events)

31. Dreams Anymore (Pieces of April)

32. A Chicken With It's Head Cut Off (69 Love Songs, Vol. 2)
This song was the one that made me check out the Magnetic Fields when I was in college, after I had been told that the lyrics of this song basically described be to a "t." Not altogether flattering, and not altogether wrong.
33. The One You Really Love (69 Love Songs, Vol. 1)
34. If There's Such A Thing As Love (I)
Another upbeat Magnetic Fields song. They tend to come around so rarely on their records that when they do they seem wildly, disproportionately upbeat.
35. 100000 Fireflies (The Wayward Bus / Distant Plastic Trees)

36. Abigail, Belle Of Kilronan (69 Love Songs, Vol. 2) Of the many "war songs" on 69 Love Songs, this is my favorite. It manages to be funny, heartfelt, and even kind of patriotic at the same time!
37. With Whom To Dance? (Get Lost)

38. Torn Green Velvet Eyes (Holiday)

39. Asleep And Dreaming (69 Love Songs, Vol. 2)
My friends Tim and Christine danced to this at their wedding; if you can find someone that thinks this is the kind of song to dance to a wedding, you've probably found the right someone.
40. Waltzing Me All the Way Home [The 6ths] (Hyacinths and Thistles)
Oh, Odetta. She always sounds, even on her early stuff, like she's 120 years old. Her beautiful and deep voice gives this song the perfect gravity for a playlist closer.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Pod-roll

I've been woefully lagging behind on posting here the last couple weeks. Maybe it's the just a typical post-holiday hangover? Maybe it's how consumed I am with the presidential race? Maybe it's simply the fact that I'm broke right now and feeling pretty anti-social as a result.

Regardless, as I am in still in the spirit of giving, I thought that I would pass along my recommendations for the best regular or semi-regular podcasts. This is in part inspired by my good friend Todd's recommendation of the fantastic "Sound of Young America" podcast, the final nail in the coffin in terms of me not listening to any actual music on my podcast this month. It's also inspired by the fact that there really don't seem to be a lot of good places to find podcast recommendations. The itunes store itself is actually a pretty good place to go, but most everywhere on the Internet itself you'll just find ad pages posing as recommendation sites.

Anywhere, below, roughly grouped by category, are my favorite podcasts. It's worth noting that there's only one video podcast on here, as I find them to be battery killers and not especially handy on the subway. Without any more ado, here's the list...

Matters Political:

It's All Politics- I've been talking about this one for a long time now and have finally started to win some converts. Ron Elving and Ken Rudin have phenomenal chemistry as co-hosts, and the podcast not only features an excellent discussion of the week in politics, it also makes me laugh out loud at least one every edition.

Slate Political Gabfest - A smart and casual weekly podcast that similarly focuses on the week in politics. The Slate writers (John Dickerson, Emily Bazelon, David Plotz) have a lot of evident passion and intelligence regarding the political world and it makes for a very entertaining, illuminating podcast.

New Yorker: Comment - New Yorker front of the magazine stuff; especially fun whenever it features an article by the phenomenal Hendrik Hertzberg.

Matters Athletic:

Basketball Jones - J.E. Skeets and Tas are a couple of cheerful Canadians that heroically put forth a daily 20-minute basketball podcast. Very funny, oddly addictive, and a great way to catch up on the night in basketball.

The B.S. Report with Bill Simmons - A weekly podcast from ESPN columnist, Bill Simmons. Simmons, one of my all-time favorite sportswriters, has a very funny, loose podcast that is perfect for a post-work subway ride.

Daily Dish - Weekly podcast from Chad Ford, one of my favorite NBA writers. A great source if you want to impress your friends with your knowledge of obscure but up-and-coming Eastern European basketball players.

Matters Miscellaneous:

NPR: Fresh Air - Terry Gross is such an amazing host, so warm and enthusiastic, that she makes all of the Fresh Air podcasts interesting. I must admit, though, a habit of avoiding avoiding any of the Fresh Air podcasts that focus on Iraq too heavily.

NPR: All Songs Considered- Although my friend Brandon and I love to joke about host Bob Boilen's overenthusiasm and tendency to mispronounce band names, this is still very much a worthwhile podcast and has definitely exposed me to some artists I would probably never have given a chance to otherwise.

Sound of Young America - Many thanks to Todd for the recommendation here. For those people interested in comedy and it's mechanics, this podcast is absolutely essential. Jesse Thorn, "America's Radio Sweetheart," is an excellent and very funny host, and he does a great job interviewing John Hodgman, Bob Odenkirk, Michael Cera, and many, many others. I haven't played an album on my ipod it at least a week because of this podcast.

The Classic Tales Podcast - Classic short stories read aloud. In particular, check out "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," by Mark Twain.

Matters of Old/Intermittently Updated Podcasts:

"The New Yorker Festival" Video Podcast - In-depth video interviews with Steve Martin, Judd Apatow, and others.

KCRW Politics of Culture - This doesn't seem to get updated very often, but when it does it features a lot of great general-interest topics. The podcasts on the book "Starbucked" and on the KCRW music library were both very interesting.

Monday, January 7, 2008

As Smart As It Gets

Sometimes I forget how fun learning could be as a child. While in Michigan for Christmas, I spent part of a morning playing Memory Game with my mom, two nieces, and nephew. Despite a college education, two years of pants-shittingly intense work at Portfolio Center, and the fact I hold a steady copywriting job in NYC, I came in third. And that was only because the seven-year-olds Dominic and Sophia got bored and dropped out. I sat and watched my niece Lauren DOMINATE the game, convinced she was somehow marking the cards. Sure, I can write 100 words of real estate body copy in my sleep, but where’s the fun in that?

Making learning an enjoyable process can be easy, like using the game of Memory to sharpen cognition, but some subjects are just no fun. Take math, for example. Since finishing high school, the most I’ve done is the occasional simple mental equation, but I used to love numbers. There was something in the order and certainty of mathematics that fueled my love for puzzles of any sort. And I can link my fascination of variables and probabilities directly to a man named Jim Thurman. Odds are he probably influenced you quite a bit too.

A huge contributor to the Children’s Television Workshop, Thurman wrote for The Electric Company, 321 Contact, The Muppet Show, and Sesame Street, which he produced animation for from its inception in 1969 until his death this past year, including one of my favorites Teeny Little Super Guy. On top of that he was a comedy writer for Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett, and Bill Cosby. Still, his biggest influence on me was the way he uniquely combined abstract mathematical concepts with pop culture parodies in the show Square One TV.

If you never saw this show growing up, you really missed out. The cast was full of talented actors who made a kids show about math more fun than it probably should have been. They sang songs about estimation, percentages, and Archimedes over synthesized 80s Pop. They parodied game shows with But Who’s Counting?, What’s My Number?, and Triple Play. They even had sketches about a Dallas-esque family called Callous. But the greatest part of each episode was the final ten minutes, which were devoted to the crime serial Mathnet. Every week had a new 5-part case where detectives George Frankly and Kate Monday (later it was Pat Tuesday) solved kooky L.A. mysteries using cunning and mathematics.

Mathnet was seriously entertaining and equally educational. Square One itself was my favorite show for about three years, despite essentially being an extension of my schooling. I know there are a number of innovative educational shows around today like Dora The Explorer and Blues Clues, but nothing I can think of has had the ability to get a little "meta" and push youngster’s brains more maturely. The 70s and 80s were definitely the heyday of children’s programming. I think it’s time for CTW to get back to its roots and take back the attention spans of elementary school kids. Heck, if they decided to create an Adults’ Television Workshop, maybe I would start beating nine-year-olds at simple memory games.

Some Square One faves:

8% of My Love


An entire part of Mathnet!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Obama Wows Iowa (and America?)

Although I've been approaching Barack Obama's prospects with a hopeful but cautious detachment the last couple of months, last night's victory in Iowa seems too momentous (whether he ultimately wins or loses the nomination) to not be dwelled upon for a while. In particular, the one aspect of Obama that I personally find the most striking (maybe it's the ex-debater in me) is his amazing gift for always finding a way to maximize the potency of his speeches.

Even more than his strong, clear voice, the style in which he talks (see his Iowa victory speech below) is filled with classic and extremely effective rhetorical flourishes. Each paragraph seems to follow a pattern of "loud statement...louder statement...POWERFUL STATEMENT," followed by a quickly spoken, medium voiced, applause-creating closing line, much like he was a preacher giving a sermon. There are times when I half- expect him to end his paragraphs with "can I get an amen!" I was trying to think of other viable presidential candidates that use this style (and weren't actual reverends like Jesse Jackson) and the closest I could think of was that this is how I imagine William Jennings Bryan must have been when he ran for president a 100-odd years ago (though let's hope things turn out better for Obama).

Also, he also seems to have an innate ability to ride the wave of the crowd, repeating his opening words of "They said..." again and again in the speech below until everyone finally calmed down enough for him to continue. Somehow, the effect of all this is that his speeches feel serious and professional without seeming rehearsed. Check out John Dickerson's excellent article in Slate for more examples of Obama's gifts in this regard (especially the part where he says "I can't hear you!" to a bunch of college students and cups his hand to his ear, Hulk Hogan style). The overall effect creates an incredibly positive impression and makes him easily the most gifted speaker on the campaign trail since Clinton in '92.

And, just in case you've never seen it, here is part one of his star-making speech from the 2004 DNC...

Although I'll wait at least until the New Hampshire primary is over to get too excited, there's no question that the entire presidential race is lifted up and more dignified when it features powerful and charming speakers like Obama and even, in a different sort of way, Mike Huckabee. If the race somehow came down to the two of them, those would have to be the most entertaining presidential debates of all time, right?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Midwest, I Kinda Miss You

(After a needed respite, the Better Chatter team is back to bring you the better-est discussion, commentary, and nonsensical hoopla you could ever ask for. We hope you got your fill of figgy pudding, received all the presents you wanted, and made your ambitious new resolutions. Happy 2008, Year of the Rat.)

Oh, Christmas flying can surely be a chore. Glorious NYC is the third official home I've had. First was Michigan, Midwest to the bone. Second came Atlanta, the birthplace of condescending politeness. Now it's New York, where everything must be bigger and better to survive. Flying out of LaGuardia and headed for Michigan (appropriately shaped like a mitten you pin to your winter coat), I landed at Chicago's O'Hare and found my flight was delayed. Then again. And again. Initially I had rushed and rushed to make my connecting flight on time, fidgeting and demanding to know where the hell gate F2 was like a stereotypical New Yorker. As I pushed and huffed my way to the nearest airport worker, a quiet, plain looking Midwestern family sat and waited patiently in line for standby. Guilt and my own Midwestern roots made me thank the airport worker profusely, and then I gave the family an "I'm-not-usually-like-that" smile. I finally calmed down, took a few deep breaths, and decided to observe my fellow Hoosiers, Huskers, and Michiganders as they too waited to fly home for Christmas.

Once I made it to gate F2, I sat and listened to a mother in a sweatshirt and turtleneck talk to her son and husband in a tone that reassured them she'd be home on time. I missed the natural friendliness Midwesterners possess, especially when they're in public. They don't want to make a ruckus. They want to take advantage of the delay, maybe talk to their kids. They'd rather enjoy every second of the holidays than make a scene trying to find their flight's gate. In NYC, riding a packed subway car to work every day can lead to scuffles and spats simply because a foot was stepped on. But when I freaked out about my flight, that plain looking Midwestern family didn't get upset and seemed too kind to judge. I'm one of many who have left the Midwest for bigger cities, but those who stay there seem content in keeping things the way they are. And in that, I feel the majority of them take pride in keeping a level head and rarely getting worked up about trivial problems.

There's definitely a reason I live in New York, don't get me wrong. The city is full of life so vibrant and constant it's tough to escape its clutches once you're inside. And it’s definitely a friendly area too, but I never really had an appreciation for the simple things that make the Midwest such a hospitable place until I left it. NYC's friendliness is a result of everyone working together because they're all in the same boat; it becomes a way of keeping your sanity. The Midwest's on the other hand seems to be passed down through the generations, almost part of a collective unconscious. Its people aren’t friendly out of necessity, it’s a lifestyle.

Maybe my sudden affection for the Midwest is just holiday sentimentality. I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way about the places they grew up in, be it out west, up north, or down south. It’s tough for me to be objective, though. Midwesterners are just too nice. Hospitality isn't enough to bring me back, but it definitely makes me want to spread some of that friendliness everywhere I go.