Posts Tagged ‘Journalism’

Finally, FINALLY!, I’ve seen all the films I needed to see to put together the Top 10 list for *last* year. Living in a flyover state is such a burden for the recreational cinephile (#FirstWorldProblems).

I’ll keep the intro brief, but wanted to comment on the year that was. I already noted in my post for the Number 11 film about how great movies were spread out through the calendar year instead of being clustered only in the November-December holiday season. But what also stands out to me about 2017 was the level of humor in the best films of the year; not necessarily as outright comedies but as film’s that didn’t feel forced to cram themselves strictly into the typical binary of serious vs. silly.

It made for richer movie-going experiences, IMHO. And besides, in 2017 I think we could all use a few extra laughs.

Without further ado, here’s the 10 best movies that came out 2017. It was an agonizing process to select them, as always, and I’ll add a few extra shout-outs to good movies that didn’t quite make the cut at the end.

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10. Phantom Thread

Say it ain’t so DDL!!!!  Daniel Day-Lewis, currently the greatest living male actor (come at me!) claims that his latest collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson is his last film — as in, ever. As tragic as the thought is, it’s at least comforting to know that he’s going out on a great note.

Day-Lewis stars as Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned dressmaker and unyielding perfectionist who finds his latest muse in Alma (Vicky Krieps). Their relationship is toxic and one-sided, by Woodcock’s design, except that Alma isn’t content to wither and fade as the dressmaker’s former lovers did.

The movie takes a bit too long getting to its deeper machinations, which in the hands of a lesser filmmaker and cast would doom the film. But the combination of DDL’s customarily immersive performance and PTA’s ethereal direction make every minute on a hypnotic delight, even if their combined weight causes the film to drag slightly.

Watch it on: Currently in theaters

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9. Nobody Speak: Trials of a Free Press

Whoulda thunk one of the most troubling and potentially detrimental challenges to the First Amendment would involve a Hulk Hogan sex tape, but here we are. Terry Bollea (the man behind the do-rag) quite literally sued the pants off of Gawker after the site posted excerpts of Bollea’s sex tape, arguing that while *Hogan* was a public figure and subject to additional scrutiny by the press, the man behind the character, Bollea, was a wholly separate individual who deserved his privacy.

Much like the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case, there’s a lot more going on here than one might immediately suppose, and director Brian Knappenberger does a superb job at peeling back the layers of this particularly rotten onion. In a time when the media is under concerted attack by public figures (“FAKE NEWS!”) and reality TV stars and tabloid provocateurs have their hands on the highest levers of governmental power (again, “FAKE NEWS!”) the ability of someone like Bollea, backed by the personal fortune of a vendetta-driven billionaire (in this case, Peter Thiel), to sue a media outlet into oblivion over objections to its content is, quite simply, terrifying. (Yowza, how’s *that* for a run-on sentence?).

Watch it on: Netflix

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8. The Disaster Artist

There have been many movies about making movies, and even a few movies about making bad movies (See: Ed Wood). But there’s never been anything quite like The Disaster Artist, which dramatizes the true and truly bizarre story of the making of The Room.

Part biopic for the notoriously terrible film’s director/writer/star Tommy Wisaue, part love-letter to film itself and part tribute to the fruits of indefatigable optimist. Centered around the all-in performance by James Franco, himself an occasionally out there multi-hyphenate, The Disaster Artist is the funniest film I saw this year. Between the abundant laughs, it’s also succeeds, somewhat unexpectedly, at making a sympathetic character out of its wackadoodle protagonist, who managed to achieve his goal of being an all-American Hollywood star (and maybe vampire?) through the most unlikeliest of routes.  (Bonus: Make sure to see “The Room” if you haven’t, but not necessarily *before* you watch The Disaster Artist. It works in either order).

Watch it on: Currently in theaters

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7. The Big Sick

Directed by Michael Showalter and written by the real-life couple whose story is dramatized on screen, The Big Sick is the charming millennial love story none of us knew we were waiting for. Kumail Nanjiani (playing a version of himself) and Zoe Kazan (as Emily) are dynamite as the central couple. And when Kazan is sidelined by the titular physical ailment of her character, the movie pops to a whole new level with the arrival of Emily’s parents, played on-the-money by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.

On its face it’s a love story, but the smart and unfussy script folds in themes of religion and family ties for a rom-dramedy that truly shouldn’t be missed.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime video

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6. Logan Lucky

After the 2013 movie “Side Effects,” Steven Soderbergh claimed he was done directing movies. He focused on television, churning out some great work in projects like The Knick and Behind the Candelabra, but maintained that he was retired from the big screen.

*Lucky* for us (see what I did there?) he changed his mind.

Going back to the heist format that launched him into the upper-Hollywood stratosphere with Ocean’s Eleven, Soderbergh bottles lightning with “Logan Lucky” a madcap, freewheeling story about misfit toys who come together to rip off a NASCAR event. It’s anchored by the oddly soulful performances of Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, the latter sporting a comically rudimentary prosthetic arm, and bolstered by an A-plus ensemble cast that includes the indescribably joyous casting of Daniel Craig as the redneck bomb-maker “Joe Bang.”

If there’s one weak point, it’s Seth McFarland as an obnoxious NASCAR driver, but it’s a minor complaint in an otherwise inventive and refreshingly clever smash-and-grab job.

Watch it on: Available for rent or purchase on streaming services

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5. The Post

Not only is Steven Spielberg’s latest very good, it’s also very necessary, arriving at a moment when the free press and First Amendment are under more scrutiny and pressure than they’ve been since…well…since the Nixon Administration depicted in the film’s plot.

The cast is stellar and the plotting is taught, diving into the emotions at play as the leadership of the Washington Post (then a second-tier paper behind the behemoths like the New York Times) wrestles with whether and how to publish the Pentagon Papers. At the center of it all is Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, waxing journalistic as the Post’s publisher and editor respectively. For newsy folk like myself, it’s the cinema equivalent of catnip, but for those outside the industry it’s a reverential and informative peak behind the curtain of one of our nations most essential democratic institutions.

Watch it on: Currently in theaters

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4. A Ghost Story

No film that I saw this year stuck with me the way A Ghost Story did. If you’ll pardon the pun, I was haunted by it.

There’s nothing conventional about this movie: it’s a bold and enigmatic story of a couple separated by mortality in which the protagonists spends the bulk of the running time obscured by a sheet like a child’s simplistic Halloween costume. You literally could not do less to show a ghost on screen, but the effect works wonders as the character (unnamed and played by Casey Affleck) looms outside the perception of his grieving wife (Rooney Mara) before becoming lost in time through a series of ponderous vignettes, all paired to precision with the single best soundtrack of any film this year.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime video

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3. Lady Bird

Few films feel as effortlessly alive as “Lady Bird,” the impressive directorial debut of indie darling Greta Gerwig. Starring Saoirse Ronan (it rhymes with “inertia”) in her funniest role to date, Lady Bird is a coming-of-age-tell that shrugs off expectations to tell a story that is at times universal (awkward first loves, parental embarrassment, dreams of adulthood in the big city) and at times wholly individual (to whit, the incredible mother-daughter pairing with a never-been-better Laurie Metcalf).

Watch it on: Available for rent or purchase on streaming services

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2. Get Out

Speaking of directorial debuts, from the mind of Jodan Peele comes the biggest talker of the 2017 year in film. Released in February, “Get Out” landed with a bang so loud the ground was still shaking by December. Not quite a horror movie, not quite a comedy and not quite sane, the movie leaned hard into America’s racial tensions, taking a textbook “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” setup and spinning it around until the wheels fall off.

Most impressive, the film doesn’t fall apart without the element of surprise. By the time most people saw it (myself included), word-of-mouth and buzzy reactions had made even the most diligently spoiler-averse audience member aware that strange things were afoot at the Circle K. You may not know exactly what is in store, but you know going in (or very shortly afterward) that things are going to be a little odd.

No matter, because Peele’s twisty concept and in-your-face constructions are simply that good. In a way, “Get Out” is spoiler proof, because what it has to say is louder than plot.

Watch it on: HBO Go/Now

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1. Dunkirk

I had a hard time choosing the image for this entry, since every option seemed so small compared to the experience of actually watching Christopher Nolan’s epic film in the theater (if you missed the large-screen format, you should still watch Dunkirk but know that you’re missing out on it’s most impressive effect: size.)

Dunkirk is a film at odds with itself. Everything about its imagery is big, from the wide-angle aerial shots to the endless horizon of a sea boiling with hulking warships toppled under billowing clouds of smoke and fire. But it’s individual moments are small, and largely wordless, as we follow various groups of soldiers, pilots and civilians engaged in the most straightforward of tasks made daunting by circumstance: getting from one side of the English channel to the other.

The contradictions in tone are made all the better by the film’s format, which weaves together three narratives that take place in different windows of time (one week on land, one day at seat and one hour in flight). It is at first disorienting, until you embrace the disorientation and look past chronology. Every scene is its own story of survival, so it doesn’t quite matter which order they occur in.

The Battle of Dunkirk has been depicted on film before, most notably in the excellent film Atonement. But while those stories made pit stops at the beach, Nolan’s story is lazer-focused on the plight of the English and French forces trapped between the German invaders on one side and the treacherous waters on the other. A straightforward telling would have made for a straightforward movie, something Nolan has shown he has little interest in, and one that may have been fine but wouldn’t stick with you the way “Dunkirk” does.

Watch it on: Available for rent or purchase on streaming services

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And a few more:

As always, there’s more than 10 movies that deserve recognition. I mentioned a few already with my Honorable Mentions, but most of those weren’t ever under consideration for my end-of-year Top 10.

Because movies come late to Utah, I end up making a Top 10 and then bumping titles off as late releases outrank them, which is heartbreaking. This was particularly the case with I, Tonya, with which I went back and forth for a few days deciding between it and Phantom Thread for the final spot.

Similarly, it killed me to not include Blade Runner 2049. I’m a huge fan of director Denis Villeneuve and really enjoyed his gorgeous sequel to the Ridley Scott classic. But I can also see where its detractors are coming from, and while I recommend it wholeheartedly there are few little nit-picky things that kept me from ranking it.

Battle of the Sexes, starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell is very good, and Stone *in it* is particularly excellent. I was going to mention it as Best Indie but I just couldn’t get over It Comes at Night. Similarly Wonder Woman deserves every inch of its success and I look forward to what Patti Jenkins does with the franchise (still the only corner of DC’s cinematic universe worth paying attention to.)

I was surprised by how much I liked Murder on the Orient Express. I knew nothing about the story which probably added to my enjoyment (your mileage may vary if you already know the big reveal) and I’m pleased that a sequel is reportedly in development, especially since this time it *won’t* include Johnny Depp.

Also Wind River is another worthwhile directorial debut, this time by Taylor Sheridan who has written some of the best crime-related films in recent years (Hell or High Water, Sicario). His skills in the director’s chair aren’t quite to the level of his writing ability, but it’s a strong first film that suggests even better things on the horizon (Sicario, you may recall, was directed by Denis Villeneuve, which ties this list together in an interesting way. And its sequel “Soldado” comes out this summer. I am, to put it mildly, excited.).

Last but not least, The Greatest Showman is a darn good musical. Sure, I would have liked a less sanitized version of P.T. Barnum — a complicated man, to say the least — but the music is great, the choreography pops, and its quite successful at what it sets out to do.

**Addendum*** This morning’s Oscar Nominations reminded me that I forgot to include The Shape Of Water in my post-list shoutouts. GDT is a visionary director, and his latest has the feel of a moving painting. Great performances by the cast (most notably Sally Hawkins is a near-silent role) and a great fantasy creation. It was a contender for the Top 10 but got bumped in the final weeks.

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It’s 2001, George  W. Bush has just entered the White House, AOL is advertising on billboards and a massive, decades-long cover up of child molestation by Catholic Priests is about to be exposed by an elite team of journalists.

That’s the setting of Spotlight, which tells the true-life story of the Boston Globe division that spent a year interviewing victims and pouring through church and court records to unravel one of the most insidious conspiracies in modern memory.

It’s a great story, and just like the scandal needed the Globe’s Spotlight team to tell it right, Spotlight, the movie, is the perfect fit to tell the tale on the big screen.

Full disclosure: I’m a journalist, and I have no illusions about how much these types of films preach to my choir. But even as I attempt to set that bias aside, I maintain that Spotlight is a great piece of drama and not just first amendment porn.

That’s because director Tom McMarthy is working with a perfect cast, including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo Liev Schriber, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci and John Slattery. And together they create an incredibly human story about individuals working together to move a mountain.

Because this is Boston, and The Catholic Church (or simply, THE Church), is an institution that is all but immortal. But the Spotlight team made it bleed.

As a piece of drama, Spotlight shouldn’t work. There’s no back-alley meet ups with anonymous sources, no bricks through windows. Even fellow based-on-a-true-story Zodiak had the unspoken possibility that its journalist character could be murdered by the titular killer.

Instead we have long segments in which the characters furrow their brows and run their fingers down the pages of a directory, or type names into a database. It’s not sexy stuff, but Spotlight makes the machinery of a newsroom as compelling as a car chase.

When the pieces start coming together, and the Globe team realizes its not just a handful but dozens of priests with hundreds of victims between them, the script hums with electricity. The audience is treated to a sample of firsthand accounts from survivors, and the knowledge that it’s the tip of a very dark iceberg is handled with deft, unsettling precision by McCarthy.

The film would have been forgiven for playing into the criminal acts of the Catholic Priests. It’s easy to imagine an alt-universe version of Spotlight that plays like an episode of CSI, showing us a string of horrendous crimes as our heroes get closer to the truth.

McCarthy resists that temptation, and the film is better for it. It’s not a story about depravity, it’s a call to action.

Grade: A

*Spotlight opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, November 20

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Utah occupies a rather prominent role in the history of U.S. rail travel. On May 10, 1869, the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed with the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in the then-Utah Territory, linking the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads and forming a continues line from east to west.

It’s a scene that is depicted on the state’s official quarter, along with the phrase “Crossroads Of The West,” and yet despite residing in Utah for 91 percent of my life I’ve never really participated in long-distance rail travel (subways and a quick trip on the Long Island Rail Road excluded).

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But a few months ago I was at a journalism conference where the invited speaker was Tom Zoellner, a former Utah journalist who authored the book “Train,” which is about, as it turns out, trains.

At the end of his speech, the mediator asked him what one what piece of advice he would give a roomful of professional journalists. I was suspecting some bit of industry parlance like “work your beat” or “write tight” but instead Zoellner said to get on the California Zephyr and ride to San Francisco.

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Until he said that it hadn’t even occurred to me that Amtrak stopped in Salt Lake City. We’re westerners after all, we have cars. But then I remember that of course you can get on a train in Utah. We’re the Crossroads of the West!

I’ve been to San Francisco, and most of the points west along the Zephyr’s route, but in 27 years of Utah living I had never visited Denver, our intermountain sister-city to the East, so when a 3-day weekend availed itself to me I packed a back and headed for the tracks.

Obviously there’s a lot of drawbacks when comparing travel by rail to travel by air. A nonstop flight on Delta from SLC to DEN takes 90 minutes, compared to the 16 hour churn of the Zephyr. And because the Zephyr runs a single route on repeat, ad infinitum, there’s not a lot of options for departure times. In Salt Lake, that means boarding at 3 a.m. if everything runs on time (more on that later).

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But it has its advantages as well. The cost is typically lower, the seating is considerably more comfortable, you can stretch your legs with a trip to the lounge car or catch a full-service meal in the diner. And security is scant, with almost no limits on your luggage and the ability, if you choose, to snuggle with your dog. Let’s see you do that on Delta.

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Speaking of the lounge. On both my departure and return trains there was a family of – what I presume to be – Amish people. At first I thought “Oh, we’re all coming back together” but then it occurred to me that these were not the same people. Turns out the Amish don’t ride planes, with the more orthodox seeing them as an unnecessary worldly luxury and thus necessitating the use of trains for long-distance travel. Who knew!

The other way that trains have planes beat is the scenery, which particularly through the Glenwood Canyon was just incredible.

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Our first stop in Colorado was Grand Junction, a rather dilapidated relic of the railway golden years. You can almost imagine old scenes of men in trench coats, puffing on cigars in the moonlight while the steam from an arriving trains billows along the platform, or enlisted men leaning out of windows for one last kiss as their girls wave and dab at tears with frayed handkerchiefs.

Now it’s just boarded windows and chain link fences, with a metallic Amtrak Sign lending support to the cracked and faded lettering on the junction’s facade.

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We arrived at Denver’s Union Station a little before 7 p.m. The building was closed for a private party celebrating the end of a renovation project so we travelers wrapped around the perimeter and headed up the 16th Street pedestrian mall.

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16th Street is a charming feature of the city’s downtown, with through-traffic relegated to the cross streets and only public transit and rickshaws allowed down the main drag. The street itself is largely dominated by Starbucks shops and chain restaurants like Cheesecake Factory and Chili’s, making it something of a pedestrian mecca for those friends of yours who like to go out but don’t have particularly refined taste.

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There are exceptions of course and the ritzy Larimer Square is nearby, where I got some killer sushi and potstickers at Tag. And since this is Colorado, I moseyed into a recreational marijuana store. I didn’t take any pictures though, because I didn’t want to be that guy who walks in with a Utah ID and a camera starts snapping photos like some puritanical narc.

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Saturday was my main day to explore the city. I watched the Rockies lose to the Twins while eating a footlong bratwurst at Coor’s Field and stopped by Tatterred Cover bookstore to pick up my own copy of A Tale of Two Cities (which was fitting, because my king bed at the Grand Hyatt allowed me to end the night with one of the better rests that I have ever known).

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I also headed over to Commons Park, which runs along the South Platte River, and happened upon a skateboarding tournament, which made for a nice distraction. I’m not a skater, I’ve never been a skater, but it’s incredible what they’re able to do.

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From there I headed back to my hotel with a quick detour to the Colorado State Capitol and Civic Center Park, where most of the city’s government buildings (and the Denver Post) are located. Colorado has a great capitol, with a blue-ish rotunda that makes it stand out from the relatively identical nature of those buildings.

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Nearby are the public library and Denver Art Museam, two great modernist buildings surrounded by sculptures and pop art. I’m a sucker pop art, always have been.

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I was supposed to leave Sunday morning at 8 a.m., but around 6:30 I woke up to a message that my train had been delayed four hours to 11:50. When a 16-hour ride is delayed four hours, it puts a bit of wrinkle in your plans. What puts an even larger wrinkle in your plans is when that train is delayed again until 12:15, and then again until 12:30, and then finally leaves around 1:15.

But on the bright side, I finally got a chance to explore the union station.

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I admit that some of the romance had worn off by my return trip, during which I spent less time gazing out the lounge windows and more time with headphones in my ears binge-watching the first season of The Americans on my laptop.

But even while I tried to resist, the scenery at times was just too much to ignore.

 

 

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My friend Karen is a hoot and a half.

We first made each other’s acquaintance in 2011 when I was the editor in chief of USU’s student newspaper. Karen sent me a sternly-worded email expressing her displeasure with a photograph we had chosen to publish in connection with a fundraiser held by her boyfriend’s frat.

The image, which featured a young woman with her legs around the waist of a young man fist-pumping in time to whatever sick jams the hired DJ was spitting, was deemed by some in the Greek community as an intentional, calculated maneuver to discredit the image of these fine, upstanding, campus leaders due to my personal prejudices against fraternal and sororital groups.

In actuality, the photo was selected because it was indicative of the event – a dance party – and was one of the more tasteful images we had gathered during the evening. As for my personal bias, I only had ill feelings toward a single house on USU’s Greek Row, which was not the fraternity in question.

I did my best to explain this to Karen and the issue was mostly settled, as today’s newspapers are tomorrow’s birdcage liners. But for the remainder of the semester Karen I stayed in sporadic contact; she letting me know about upcoming news from the Greeks and I using her insight into an area of campus life foreign to me as a makeshift focus group.

In the years since, Karen and I have often debated politics, philosophy, religion, pop culture and any other myriad number of subjects. I value her opinion and insight immensely, and in fact she has been kind enough to read through an early draft of my novel to provide feedback (a labor of love, I assure you).

And yet, Karen and I have never spoken face to face.

We ran in different scenes in college and, after graduation, I scooted off to an internship in New York City while she headed to Wisconsin to be a librarian. Thanks to the wonderful world of Facebook in which we know live, we may as well be neighbors.

Karen isn’t the only example in my life of a relationship that is primarily digital. Among my 600-odd Facebook friends are many who began as acquaintances but, one “like” and comment at a time, have become indispensable members of my social circle.

For example, in 2010 I spent a week in Georgia at a conference for college newspaper editors. There were a few dozen of us, pulled from schools all over the country, and we spent our days immersed in the study of our shared profession and our nights bar-hopping around Athens.

It was one of the most memorable weeks of my life, and though I effectively haven’t seen any of my colleagues since, we nonetheless keep in touch and come together in an online forum from time to time online to discuss the changing state of our industry.

In today’s world, you can go months, even years, without exchanging so much as a sentence with a particular human being, but with one mouse click Facebook notifies you that “John Doe likes your post,” and you know that connection remains.

Most people, I imagine, have experienced this as most people are now on one form of social media or another. That is why it’s so hard for me to understand the stigma that continues to hang over online dating, since the central concept is the same. If a friendship can be built and maintained online then why not love?

It’s also what makes the constant failure of online dating so frustrating, as most of my attempts at a conversation are either never answered or flame out over the space of two to three days.

But the obvious difference is time. It took two years of slow, incremental progress for Karen and I to become bona-fide friends, whereas most of the articles I’ve read on online dating (and my own experience) suggest that after you “meet” your eJuliet you need to suggest a meeting IRL relatively quickly before they lose interest and move on to the next hazel-eyed brunette with a college degree who enjoys folk music, Thai food and embroidery.

Case in point, Melanie, who I was obliged to friend on Facebook after receiving the following message:

So I have an interesting story for you! It’s an epic story with twists and a surprise ending!

This past weekend, a girl I know passed away. This morning, I wanted to find out more details about the accident, so I went to [a website I contribute to] and guess who was the author of the article?! 🙂

Here’s the part where it takes a turn.

First off, great article! I also really enjoyed your blog [ed note: Uh-oh] and flipping through your FB pictures! You never mentioned that you are in a band! [ed note: I wouldn’t exactly call One Wood Uke a “band”] These are the kind of facts you wanna broadcast if you’re really trying to impress a girl!

Now, it’s generally understood that everyone Facebook stalks each other. I mean, real talk, that’s what the website is for. But still, acknowledging it flat-out seems like a breach of social protocol, especially when it affects what I can write on my blog.

But it’s mostly a moot point. After accepting my friend request I didn’t bother continuing our conversation on OkCupid, plus I was out of town with limited internet capability. When I returned to society I had the following message from Melanie in my FB inbox:

“So what’s the deal? We become friends on Facebook and stop talking?”

Apparently, yes. But who knows, in two years we could be thick as thieves.

In other news, I’m beginning to think the initial excitement of Tinder is wearing off, leaving only the sad a depressed or the sexual predators as users. My two most recent “matches” include a woman named Kyra whose tagline says “I’m looking for a one night stand” and Lisa, who mere seconds after matching with me initiated the following conversation:

Lisa: Hi! Have we chatted before? 24/female here…you??

Me: Don’t think so. 26.

Lisa: I’m sorry…I get to be forgetful at times!! How’re u??

Me: No worries. I’m good. How are you?

Lisa: Just got out of the shower…..crazy week been working a lot! But I’m feeling naughty!! So what’s up….wanna have some fun?? 😉

Lisa: I want a guy that can make me [explicit sexual phrase] Have you ever made a chick [use your imagination]?? Hahaa

Me: Can’t say I have

Lisa: Gonna change my clothes…..wanna see? 🙂

Lisa: Want to play on webcam?

Me: I don’t have a webcam

If you’re wondering why I was still responding at that point, it was for academic purposes, natch, I am a blogger after all.

Lisa then proceeded to send me the url for a webcam website where, if I filled in my credit card information, I would be able to enjoy a nice conversation with her about the Socratic method and Plato’s analogy of the cave. She assured me the credit card was just to verify that I was an adult and that I wouldn’t be charged a dime.

Which basically brings us to the present after a mostly non-eventful month. My niche online dating service (hint: it’s not DatingWithHerpes) continues to be an abysmal failure, and to make matters worse I’ve reached the end of my 6-month prepaid period, meaning I know get a nice monthly withdrawal from my checking account to be rejected by women.

If I’m learning anything, it’s that free dating sites offer services as good, if not superior, to paid sites. That may not be true for higher-profile entities like eHarmony or Match.com which, if the commercials are to be believed, employ an army of statisticians to painstakingly introduce you to the next love of your life.

What’s more disheartening about my niche online site (hint: it’s not EquestrianCupid ) is that of my 4 services it’s the one I’m failing the most at. I’ve so far stuck to my quota of initiating at least one conversation a week but am sad to say the last time I received a response was June 4.

I’ve updated my profile, I’ve added pictures, but the scientific method would suggest I’m a lost cause. Unbeknownst to me, there must be something about my smile, the way I style my hair, or the way I answered the 6 things I can’t live without that is a secret female code word for “deranged sociopath.”

As the mutants on table 9 and I have come to realize throughout our lives, we simply have nothing to offer the opposite sex.

Or, maybe it’s just that I’m a writer.

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I don’t remember much of my life before age 5. Even if I did, it wouldn’t really change the fact that for almost all of my life the end of August has been attached, inexorably, to the advent of a new school year.

With the exception of those pre-5 years, I had exactly one year, 2011, when the academic calendar was irrelevant to me. But now I’m employed as an education reporter for a daily newspaper, and while I may not have worried about what clothes I’d be wearing or whether I would see my friends, I was still keenly aware of the first day of school.

Valley Elementary School (1992-1999)

My education began at Valley Elementary School, home of the Bulldogs. I never went to pre-school (fancy that) so my first experience with an organized classroom was Mrs. Day’s kindergarten class. I don’t remember much. In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure my teacher’s name was Mrs. Day.

I remember learning about Bill Clinton in first grade. I remember getting in big trouble in second grade for attempting the Heimlich maneuver on a classmate who wasn’t choking. I played the Mouse King in a 3rd-grade production of The Nutckracker and blew the performance out of the water. One critic said my portrayal of the King’s rise to power and eventual fall captured, effortlessly, the duality of man and the fragile nature of life…I may be paraphrasing.

I remember that even back then I wanted to be writer. I used to craft these pathetic short stories and submit them to a yearly Jr. Author’s Fair that Valley put on. If you wrote something for the fair, you got free pass to the Seventh Street Skating rink which, at that age, was pretty much the best motivator I could fathom.

Remember skating rinks? Everyone would get their passes from the fair and the whole school, or so it seemed, would be there on the same night. Seventh Street had a doughnut and hole track and all the guys would hang out in the center ring and dare each other to go and skate with the girls. Few did, fewer still lived to tell the tale.

In fifth grade we had a talent show. My friends Blake, Trevor and I did the dance to the original Men In Black theme song (“Just bounce with me, Just bounce with me”). We’d practice at my house after school.

After our performance, Blake had a second talent, singing “Truly, Madly, Deeply” with a couple of other guys. Even at 11 years old I thought that was kind of stupid.

Sixth grade was my last year at valley. We terrorized our teacher, Mr. Hull. People are monsters, and children are just little people.

Snowcrest Jr. High (1999-2002)

Snowcrest, home of the Skyhawks (not an actual bird) is a small school. At the time there were around 350 students, or just more than 100 per grade. It was a great place to go to school. Valley was the only feeder elementary so we truly did know everyone and I remember it as one big party.

Because of its size, Snowcrest didn’t have much in the form of elective courses. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every student had to choose between taking a music class or taking Spanish. I’ve never had any desire to learn Spanish and it had always been a dream of mine to play the saxophone (“There’s so many Buttons!”) so I signed up for band along with most of my friends.

I only wore the hat once, but I always wore something (cue sarcastic, “duh”). Over time the tradition started for the saxophone line to all wear sunglasses to a performance (“So I can, So I can”). We thought we were really, really cool.

We really, really weren’t.

My other elective (ok, you got 2) was drama. In Jr. High there was nothing wrong with being in Band and Drama. In high school I luckily learned that things were different before making a huge mistake. Every year we’d put on a melodrama. I was on track to be The Villain in 9th grade and Trevor was to be The Hero, but then Trevor dropped out to go to some alternative pseudo-homeschool and our drama teacher had some sort of stress attack and stopped putting on melodramas.

Suddenly I had a hole in my extracurricular so I decided to run track. I did the 110-meter hurdles and threw disk.

I wasn’t very good, but I had long hair and wore a headband and it was shortly after the Salt Lake City winter Olympics so people called me Apolo (as in, Anton Ohno). It’s the only nickname I’ve ever had. I loved it.

I played rec football since our school was too small to have a team. I was a defensive linemen. I wasn’t very good at that either, but I rocked at the saxophone.

If you remember my last quarter century post, I started Jr. High with atrociously-awful parted-down-the-midle hair. Luckily around 8th or 9th grade I was able to start moving past that and emerge from my cocoon like a beautiful butterfly, or at least a not-as-creepy-gross-as-some moth.

Weber High School (2002-2005)

We had a tradition when we were kids. The night before the first day of school we would lay out our next day’s outfit on the floor from shirt to shoes in the shape of a person. I don’t remember when it started but I was little, the only picture I have of this weird practice is from my Sophomore year.

I didn’t break the habit until college, when I decided that my roommate would probably think I was a lunatic.

But I digress. Weber High School, home of the Warriors and nestled in picturesque North Ogden which, if you’ve never been there, is actually a terrible place. It’s a 5A High School, the largest classification in Utah public ed, so I went from knowing everyone in a 350-student school to a 1,600-student school where everyone seemed to know everyone except me.

I drifted away (quickly) from band and drama and instead got into the student government scene. My junior year campaign was my best (and the one that I actually won) helped in no small part by my mom’s amazing ability to make awesome posters (note, we fixed the typo on the Matrix design).

Student Government is a complete joke, but we had a good time. Luckily, I lost my senior year election so I’m under no obligation to plan a reunion.

I ran track for two years at high school, but it became increasingly apparent that I was not going to grow taller than 5’10”, couldn’t compete with guys taller than me and was never very good to begin with. When I finally threw in the towel I put my extra-curricular focus into the Future Business Leaders of America which pretty much consisted of traveling to various competitions around the state and trashing hotel rooms.

My big thing was Entrepreneurship and while I still wrote for the school paper (and a Teen Section in the local daily) I had forgotten about being a writer and instead thought of myself as some wunderkind who would create a business and make boatloads of money. Never mind that I had no idea what that business would be or what product I would sell; business classes don’t teach you HOW to make money, they just teach you that if you don’t make money you’re worthless.

I graduated with honors, which besides meaning absolutely nothing when applying for colleges allowed me to wear a very fetching yellow rope around my neck. Totally worth the hours of AP homework and never having a girlfriend.

Utah State University (2005-2011)

And with that, we made the move to Logan for Utah State University, home of the Aggies. I lived in the dorms my first year, which is an experience I think everyone should go through because of how simultaneously awesome and awful it is.

I made some classic freshman mistakes. I had a 7:30 class, I would actually get dressed in the morning, I ate nothing but pop tarts and Eggo waffles.

We lived in the top floor of the Alva C. Snow hall, which we nicknamed Alva Heights and Greek-ified into Sigma Alpha Eta as an inside joke about how stupid fraternities are. We use to do this thing in the elevator where someone would yell “Go Ninja!” and you had to jump up onto the walls and keep your feet off the floor. We also had this running gag where we would stash bottles of rotten things in other dorms.

We were SO cool!

We also invented the “Tool Dance” which consisted of holding your hands above your head and side-stepping past an open doorway.

I lived with some friends from High School but after a few months adopted myself into an apartment down the hall. There were two Bens, two Daves and two Zachs so we implemented a numbering system to tell everyone apart in conversation. Dave 2 continues to be designated as such in my cell phone.

I started out “undeclared” trying to decide between business and journalism. The conflict was a classic one, a choice between love and money. By my sophomore year my mind was made up, I registered as a JCOM major and kept a business minor so my credits wouldn’t go to waste. I hated my business minor, every class was an hour of self-congratulation for being better than the rest of campus and pontification about the free market and the spirit of enterprise. Never mind the fact that most of my classmates couldn’t name the Vice President and, as far as I could tell, had never read a book.

Things were great on the journalism side. I got an in at the campus paper as an opinion columnist, which turned into news reporting, which turned into features editing and finally editor in chief. I had an office, a desk, a campus phone line and a key to the student center. I was a king, and it didn’t go to my head at all.

My friends started getting married, having kids, having SECOND kids. At the same time the list of people who wanted me to graduate and go quietly into the night got bigger. I loved Logan, I love Utah State, but when my four (six) years were up it was time, and I was ready, to go.

So I did.

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