Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Obsessions for Men

My good friend Jesse has issues with food because his stomach doesn’t always do its job correctly, and as a result he can only keep down certain victuals. He understands that this limits his diet to a pretty bland smorgasbord of unseasoned breads and tall glasses of water, and he’s at peace with this arrangement.

Sometimes, however, Jesse bumps into a genuinely delicious, succulent morsel of something his stomach will actually accept, and then over the next three weeks he’ll eat almost nothing but that one delicious food (And who can blame him?). For example, senior year of college it was these apple muffins, which I’ll admit were pretty stinkin’ yumtastic.

The point is that Jesse’s food isn’t the only example in history of someone growing temporarily obsessed with something. We all do it, and the following is just an assemblage of a few of my own current obsessions…

Paper Back Swap

You can ask Amy; in a lot of ways I’m a cheap S.O.B. I unplug the Nintendo Wii all the time because even when it’s off the little yellow light still shines, and that’s energy that could be saved. I’ll say no to cheese on my Whopper at Burger King because it banks like 20 cents a burger. I even saved money on Amy’s engagement ring by just turning a quarter in one of those little jewelry dispensers in the Wal-Mart lobby.

So when something comes my way touted as “free” when I normally would’ve spent money on that something, I get incredibly happy. Like REALLY happy. Sometimes I even pee a little.

And paperbackswap.com made me pee a little.

Basically what happened is that I joined this site (it’s free) and sent out all of my old crappy books to people who inexplicably wanted them, and in return I got several “new” used books from other members for free.

I’ve been reading like a fiend of late, tearing through the new novels that arrive in my mailbox with faithful regularity. Let’s face it—nothing is more fun than getting a package in the mail, even when you know exactly what it is. And now I’m getting packages in the mail all the time. FREE packages!

This is my website du jour, and I highly recommend any of you bibliophiles out there to check it out. I know I’ve suggested this to many of you before, but I mean it this time. Go trade free books.

Oops… Amy plugged the Wii back in. Be right back…

Dexter

Let me drop this premise on you and see what you think. There’s this serial killer who’s been jacked up his whole life, but because he was raised by a good cop who could tell the kid had issues, he was taught to kill only bad people to satiate his urges, and also how to avoid being caught.

So this kid grows up killing all these people who deserve it (a la “The Boondock Saints”) while also working as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami forensics department. He uses his knowledge as a serial killer to help catch other serial killers for the city, and he uses his resources at the precinct to help him track down his next victims.

That’s the premise of the show “Dexter,” which sadly appears on Showtime but which non-sadly can be rented on DVD at your friendly neighborhood video store. Season one is out, while season two is just getting started back up on Showtime. Amy and I are infatuated.

The greatest thing about this series is that it’s based off of books written by Jeff Lindsay, who is a pretty fun author to read. Season one of the show was based off of “Darkly Dreaming Dexter,” and I can only guess that season two will be based off of “Dearly Devoted Dexter.”

The new book, “Dexter in the Dark,” comes out in a couple of weeks, and I want it. If anyone feels like purchasing me a gift for no reason at all, that would be a great place to start for ideas.

Home Videos to DVD

Thanks to Kevin Clark—a friend whom I have worked closely with over the last few weeks to defeat the Crystal Cup on “Mario Strikers,” an awesome arcade-style soccer game for Wii—I now have use of a DVD recorder, which is basically a VCR that uses blank discs instead of blank tapes.

So I’ve begun the process of transferring Amy’s and my old home videos to DVD. I could easily just record each tape and leave the disc as is, but I want fancy menus and chapters, so the technological hoops I’m jumping through right now are keeping me nice and dizzy.

The end result will be worth it, because the tape of my first birthday is one I don’t want to wear out. I smash cake in my face and get it all over the place, a habit I have yet to break to this day.

There’s also the classic in which four-year-old Amy sings the alphabet, coming to the climactic part of the song where instead of “L-M-N-O-P,” she strings together, “M-N-L-N-O-O-P.” It’s just the cutest damn thing. But not as cute as me smashing cake into my face at age 12 months. We’ve got to keep things in perspective, here.

Jonathon Safran Foer

I watched “Everything is Illuminated” a couple of years ago, which stars Elijah Wood, and I did not like it. I think this was for two main reasons:

1. I loathe, detest, and abhor Elijah Wood as both an actor and a human being, and:
2. The book “Everything is Illuminated” is so thoughtful and descriptive and complex that turning it into a movie could only bastardize the poetry of the original version. Since I hadn’t read the book before watching the movie, I absolutely didn’t get the point of the film.

Of course, once I finally did read the book I felt so much more involved with the characters and wrapped up in the story. It was almost mythological, fable-like—but also funny and thoughtful and prosaic.

The author is my age, which perhaps helps me relate to him more, but for whatever reason I finished the book bewildered. In a good way. Like when you were a kid and you’d spin around and around in circle for twenty minutes for no other reason other than when you finally stopped, it would feel cool.

More recently I read “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” also by Foer, which follows the sad adventures of a child prodigy named Oskar Schell. It got me thinking about life and family and love and fortune, and by the time I finished reading it I felt emotionally cleansed. I can’t wait to read it again. And “Everything is Illuminated,” too, for that matter.

Foer is young, but he’s a great author, and I can’t wait for the next one to be written. I’ve actually considered writing him a letter to thank him for such great work—something I’ve never done before—but that seems kinda fruity.

Besides, why spend the 41 cents on a stamp? I’d need to skip the cheese on my next two Whoppers to afford that.

Monday, September 10, 2007

On Your FM Dial

It’s not that I’ve never done radio before, because I have. Over the last couple years doing my work for HOOPSWORLD I’ve had the pleasure of partaking in spot phone interviews with sports talk radio stations in Indianapolis, Dallas, and Tampa (You hear that? It’s the melodious tooting of my own horn—what a delightful timbre!), but I’ve never been “The Guy.” I’ve just been a guy adding two cents here and there, and those who know me understand that I’ve usually got more like eight or nine cents to throw around.

Starting today, however, I got a scrum-diddly-umptious taste of the radio red carpet here in Bloomington-Normal thanks to my good friend Cole—now known over FM waves as “Coleman Edwards.” I’ve earned a brief spot every Monday morning with the usual sunrise crew at Cities 92.9, the new talk radio station here in town.

(Note: I thought about coming up with a cool radio name for myself, but I decided to stick with “Joel Brigham.” When Kyle did his personality work for The Eagle he went by the moniker “Tank Turner,” and I just can’t compete with that.)

Don’t worry—my head isn’t big about this or anything. I only get a ten-minute spot once a week, but the experience was a frickin’ blast. More fun than a gaggle of giggling babies. And that’s all I’m trying to say here.

First and foremost, my deepest sympathies to all the early morning show DJ’s across the country. Waking up at 5:45 am to do the show, followed by a normal day of teaching teenage children with flowering hormones and expensive, offensive, and boisterous garb, was truly exhausting.

Crawling out of bed when the moon is the only thing lighting your silent apartment is comparable only to being given half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when you’re hungrier than a hostage. And maybe getting thumped in the privates. Maybe.

On the bright side, however, there’s virtually no traffic at 6:30 in the morrow, and starting your day chatting with genuinely funny people more than makes up for the early rise. There’s worms to be caught, right? Might as well be me who catches them. At least on Mondays.

Scott Robbins, the lead DJ, is my dogg (please note the extra “g” as Exhibit A for how much Scott Robbins is, in fact, my dogg), and Dennis Miller and Maria Henneberry are both genuinely nice and funny people as well. They took me right in as their own, asked me a few Bears questions (which I answered with zeal), and then the whole thing was over before it even started. Ten minutes go by quickly in radio minutes. Think of it like dog years.

If things go well for me, I could be asked back after football season to chat about the Bulls (my specialty, obviously) and baseball, which in these parts covers the Sox, Cubs, and Cardinals. Actually, if I’m being truthful, baseball in these parts covers only the Cubs and Cards, but so what?

Great, now I’m thinking about the White Sox. I cried the last time this happened. But today’s not a day for crying. It’s a day for celebration because I have yet another awesome professional opportunity. Sometimes I just have to wonder why I’ve been so blessed. To avoid this sounding like another Joel-Horn tooting, let me just say that I’m thankful for the break, and somewhere deep down I feel like I don’t deserve to be enjoying life as much as I am.

But I am enjoying life as much as I am, and how much can I really complain about that? Thanks for tuning in, and we’ll see you all every Monday at about 7:10 on Cities 92.9 in Bloomington-Normal. This is Brigsy McBriggerton signing off.

Nope, “Tank Turner” still sounds cooler.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

More Than Just a Fantasy

What’s the one thing women hate more than forgotten anniversaries, broken Tivos on E! Hollywood News marathon day, and jeans that make their butts look big? Easy: football.

And what’s the one thing that confuses women even more than men’s love for watching this great American game? Playing fantasy football.

It confounds them. When I told Amy about my fantasy draft last weekend she smiled at me politely with an “Oh, neat” kind of look (notice the absence of the exclamation point), so that officially she showed support but deep down was thinking, “I have no idea what the hell that is, let alone why he’s so excited about it.”

But those of us who have allowed ourselves to drift deep into the mesmerizing, seedy underbelly of the fantasy sports world know that a live draft is something worth getting very excited about. If one allows himself (or herself, in rare cases) to indulge fully in the activity, it can be more fun than, say, playing in the children’s playsets at your area McDonald’s.

Yet so many entirely capable sports fans let the opportunity to join leagues with friends slip right on by year after fantasy-less year. Why, you might ask? Because like Amy, they aren’t exactly sure what participating in a league would entail.

Let me break it down for you quickly:

After joining, you draft real NFL players to your team. Everybody in the league takes turns picking, just like in a real draft (except unlike the Detroit Lions, you usually don’t take a wide receiver in the first round), so the talent is as evenly dispersed as possible.

Each player on your squad earns points for the team based on the stats he puts up in his actual, real-life game that week. For example, Peyton Manning = good, and Brett Favre = very, very bad. After all the games have been played that week the computer adds up your points and your opponent’s points, and a winner is announced. Your wins and losses over the course of the season get tallied like a real team, and there are playoffs towards the end of the season, when a fantasy champion is crowned.

The strategy of the game comes in picking up sleeper guys off the waiver wire, making smart trades with the other managers (a.k.a. “your friends”), and deciding which guys to play and which guys to bench each week (only the ones you play earn your team points).

Most importantly, with each victory you’re able to talk smack to those friends of yours with inferior fantasy sporting talents. Men are especially good at this. Embarrassing those you love is key to the fantasy experience.

It’s one of those Don’t-Knock-It-Until-You-Try-It scenarios. Think of trying fantasy football like sampling a new interesting restaurant for the first time. On the ride home you’d be like, “Wow, that was very delicious and awesome. I can’t wait to go back.” Except with fantasy you don’t have to eat it and it’s free.

Not so confusing now, is it?