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The Shape of Punk to Come



I

For too long I thought good art had to be opaque. That's the way it was presented in school. Everything worth studying was complicated. You had to do handouts and then later essays where the objective was seemingly to crack the code, decipher the work of art.

My first exposure to "classic" literature was something that concealed what it was about. The truth is, most of the classics have an expiration date. After that, you need a map just to enjoy them. Four hundred years in the future, an episode of South Park will need just as much exegesis as Shakespeare does now. It will appear just as opaque, the language just as obscure. It will be seemingly written in code.

The best art is clear. But art cannot remain clear because language and culture are always changing. The best art then should exist outside of time, which it can't. Yes, there can be timeless works, but those could only be made once, so they are still attached to one point in time.

Great art stays the same and progress leaves it behind. But we're never taught this. We're exposed to art as a series of coded messages, there to disguise simple things as complicated. It's why the cognitive activity most associated with English classes is "bullshitting." Especially when it comes to poetry. Poetry was what faggots with too many feelings wrote who were too big of pussies to state their feelings directly. And they did it just to ruin your adolescent life. They did it to make some kid a sesquicentury later squirm in his desk trying to figure out what the hell a Grecian Urn was anyway. Until you want to smash that Grecian Urn and all of Western Civilization with it.

But that frustrated high school freshman doesn't need to do anything. The work has already been destroyed. It has been destroyed by the treatment of art as a puzzle to be unlocked, a way to conceal truth from those who aren't worthy of it. So we have turned our backs on art, simply because we weren't properly introduced.


II

Might be time I start believing in angels. Bodhisattvas too, even if that doesn't entirely fit in with my theological framework. It makes sense in light of recent revelations. No, revelations sounds too much like some Truth (note the capital T) received from on high. Realizations then. Angels, Bodhisattvas, and other spiritual beings descended into a material world (perhaps Gnostic emanations and nature spritis) would imply a general sense of order to the world. They would in effect be cosmic repairmen. But of course the world is still very much a disorderly place.

The people who benefit us the most on the spiritual and metaphysical levels tend to be dysfunctional. They're brilliant but dysfunctional. They don't belong here and they're ill equipped to go back to where they came from. The funny ones are clearly depressed, the brilliant ones have some kind of brain damage, the ones who makes us think clearly can't think themselves and the prophets of new thought love in disastrous ways.

So there are angels out there. There are spirits of extreme compassion and wisdom and they just get distracted with money and alcohol and movies. They came here with a purpose and they end up fading on a mattress on the floor of a loft. They suffer brain damage from the magnetic flux upon entering the physical world and live their lives as the degenerates and fuck-ups among us. In other words, they're the fun ones.


III

I know people who have had their last adventure. And I want to tell them. Of course I can't, because it's improper - although I'm never rarely bound by propriety and more by a desire to never step on any toes, basically staying the fuck out of the way - and because they are already far too entrenched in their situation; the kind of people I want to rescue from a sepia existence are also the kind of people I would never want to put through the turmoil caused by breaking out of it. So they'll spend their lives in a well decorated room (things won't be bad enough where the room necessarily has to be described as tasteful) never once even stepping out on the fire escape to enjoy the view or the breeze while they smoke a cigarette or a joint. Their idea of a fun group meal will be a bland stir fry and get upset when that one intrepid soul present tries to throw in red pepper flakes or another tablespoon of hoisin sauce. They will be phlegmatic, and their rallying cry will be a dispassionate "hmff."

What can I tell these people? You were avatars of mischief and horizon chasers. Now what? Now your life decisions that seem to make you entirely happy are killing that spirit you were born with? Of course I can't. That would make me no less of an asshole than the evangelist who believes they have to be an asshole in order to save you from the fires of Hell. Although I'm more asshole than evangelist, even I can't bring myself to upset a duprass that's perfect in the moment. After all, that just makes me a damn dirty sin-wat.


IV

You won't find me on the traditional edge. The traditional edge has become the center of attention, an overpopulated shantytown of thrill-seekers and those mindlessly trying to push an imaginary edge. The old edge has become the new middle. The people who think they're edgy are just beating against the shadows of old barriers. The new pioneers are the ones who are going back, picking up the dead and the wounded. For the dead they make shrines and monuments - rock cairns and small mortuary temples with the ideals of the departed depicted in subtle hieroglyphs. For the wounded they focus every orifice of spiritual energy on their patient, nourishing with both substance and thoughts. But in their care all ideology is discarded, carried out in carts by orderlies, dumped in a pile and lit on fire. What remains is the human at the core, reborn in 2014.

A revived Steinbeck sees the tech folks crowding the Mission and the chimeric bartenders on Judah and decides this is no longer a frontier. This is the dust bowl so many fled, these are the monarchies that drove the footloose and the adaptive away from 19th century Europe. A revived Hunter S. Thompson sees his beloved Haight-Ashbury as an iterative circlejerk and heads for some mid-sized city in Indiana to shake things up.


V

I'm not entirely pround of it but I've made mix CDs, which were the modern equivalent of mix tapes until a few years ago, when Spotify made it irrelevant and redundant to have any physical music or even think of music in terms of your own collection. The idea is that you balance the rockin songs and the songs which express your feelings. This might be the perfect form of expression for me, since I can a) impose my musical tastes and b) care while pretending not to care, hiding behind the shield of the obscure prog rock acts I stick in all the wrong places to break up anything resembling a cohesive emotional message. To mangle the whole digital mix tape format even further, I would eschew the time-tested structure of alternating feelings and rockin, and instead put a rockin core in the middle surrounded by a thick layer on both sides of mid-tempo songs and Red Hot Chili Peppers b-sides. I should leave that kind of thing for people who can take themselves seriously, who can express themselves without a paper trail of disclaimers and a six-inch lead plated wall of irony.


VI

All music used to be shared. Even if it was just one caveman singing about skinning a deer, it would be heard. When we invented drums and flutes, making music was a communal activity. The only way you could make music was with other people in the drum circle. The other participants had to hear what you were doing, you had to hear them. If you wanted to hear music without making it, you would have to do it in the presence of another person. And if a third party were present, he or she would also have to be in the presence of the music maker and part of the listening experience.

For thousands of years, hearing music was almost always a communal act. Even royalty with private chamber orchestras would have at least one family member, a vizier, or maybe even a eunuch present. The only way to hear that hot new symphony or opera was to go to a public performance. The only way to hear those piano preludes in the comfort of your own home was to have your daughter learn the piano and play it as you gathered in the salon, and this of course required you were wealthy enough to have a daughter who didn't work, a piano, the means to educate said daughter in the arts, and a salon in which to gather. Maybe someone in your one room homestead could scrape some tunes out on a fiddle. You would sing while working in the field or while driving your horse to market. If you lived near a town you could go down to the pub to hear some errant troubadours.

With the phonograph came the ability to listen to music without any musicians in the room. But it still had to be played through a speaker, meaning everyone in the room was having the same musical experience. (Ok, we could get into how every consciousness is its own frame of reference but we won't. Let's just settle for the fact that everyone was likely hearing the same thing.)

Then we got headphones. Music could be compartmentalized to the individual listener, but it still was sedentary. You had to be where the record player was. Then the Walkman gave us freedom from even a physical location. And it was only an awkward pause in human history before the mp3 player gave us the ability to take all our music everywhere.

The new paradigm is that if you want it to be, music is an entirely private experience. Not only are we supposed to be insulated from the world, but we are supposed to keep our music to ourselves. I remind myself of this every time some asshole is blasting music on the bus. (And it's always music I hate. No one is ever irreverently blasting Coheed and Cambria.) It's a miracle that most of the time, people can listen to their own music without getting anyone else involved. And that I can listen to my own obnoxious music at a volume close to the threshold of pain without dragging anyone else into my sonic experience is also a canonization-worthy miracle. But still, every time I hear someone on public transit playing their music loud enough that everyone can hear, I get angry, when I should really be marveling about how much of an anomaly it is that the conditions have even been created for this to piss me off.




VII

Today, across the world, thousands of teenagers are going to discover Led Zeppelin for the first time. I cannot express how much I envy them.

They are about to have their Zeppisode. Your Zeppisode usually starts sometime between 12 and 16 years of age. It mostly affects males but has also been observed in female populations. It occurs when you first hear Led Zeppelin and are captivated by this hitherto unfamiliar sound. It can be as short as a single play of Immigrant Song, or it can last into your twenties. It's an interesting phase, because you're trying to define yourself as your own person, but the only way you know how to do it is with traditional symbols of rebellion. And there is that appeal. Yes, it's loud, so it communicates your angst. And yes, it's slightly more acceptable to be that weird kid at your high school who decks himself out in Led Zeppelin shirts rather than just that weird kid at your high school. It gives you a reason to check The Hobbit out from the library. They carry with them the whole mythology of rock and roll. It's the first time you can be conspicuously into something which is decidedly adult.

But there's a reason beyond the identity that so many dazed and/or confused teenagers have such an affinity for Zeppelin. Even if you have heard everything that comes after Led Zeppelin, you have never heard anything like Led Zeppelin before. Even if Jimmy Page did allegedly steal all of his riffs, no one had played those riffs like Jimmy Page and no one will. And when you first hear it, you feel like no one has ever heard this before, and no one has ever felt this way before. It doesn't matter that everyone alive in the last 40 years has heard this before and they have all felt the same way. Led Zeppelin makes you feel like an intrepid adolescent explorer. And once you wander far enough, you will cross the known world into the sublime, where you will find your people.


VIII


I feel that in time I will experience what every human has experienced and will experience. I do not mean that I will find some universal common meaning. No. I am of the delusion that I will actually have every experience that has been had, I will live every life that has ever been lived. I will one day take shelter in the acropolis while Athens burns around me, I will spend six months puking over the deck of a clipper ship for a chance to mine ten square feet of land along the shores of the San Joaquin, I will reach my head out of the porcelain factory window in Novgorod and proclaim that it is now in the hands of the workers, I will be a stoned dropout sitting in my pickup truck with my brand new Dead Kennedy's cassette tape. I still believe these will all happen to me, because the only thing I really want is to experience everything.


IX

How could you ever be sad at IHOP? Just imagine endless stacks of golden pancakes, emerging from a gleaming kitchen, each time the door opens the smell of frying dough and bacon wafting out and caressing your nostrils; picture the smiling faces as they spread some kind of delicious voodoo butter on their steaming, perfectly proportioned and perfectly round tall stack, then luxuriously drizzle three flavors of syrup over it, until it spills off the pancake and ever so delicately laps up against a side of crisp yet tender bacon, the symmetry of its waves reminding one of the harmony of the universe. And as you cut into that golden, fluffy pillow of dough and put it to your lips, you are overcome with a sense of calm, a sense of warmness, a sense of oneness with everything in the universe, as if you were being enveloped in the bosom of God. At IHOP, there can be no tears.

X

They asked him why he did it and he told them the truth. The truth was that he couldn't really wrap his head around the fact that people who weren't himself were having entirely coherent streams of consciousness and making decisions autonomous of his control. This did not suffice as an adequate explanation. Upon hearing the allegations he thought that jumping from a reasonably high place might be an adequate way to express himself in this situation. It would have to be one high enough where he would definitively die upon impact but not high enough that he would have any time to regret his actions on the way down. For obvious reasons this would have been a bad decision, but not for the obvious reason that first comes to mind: he did not have sufficient control over his legacy to be a martyr, and if you're going to die for the purposes of protesting the complexity of modern life, he thought, you had better have the right people on your side.


XI

The people of this rock learned long ago to trust the currents with their fate, scanning the horizon for their departed leader. Before we were born, a generation or so, he got his hands on an angel suit complete with an airtight glass halo, set his sights on the sky, and when the people asked him where he was going, he only said he was "going up." They say he strapped forty seven bottle rockets to a chair, attached wings of tarpaulin together with dental floss and chewing gum, and perched atop the southwest minaret of a local mosque he lit a fuse. We haven't seen him since but they say he's coming back. The tides are strong, even the most intrepid assholes don't get very far away. Sometimes we'll rig up canisters of condensed milk and dried mashed potatoes with another bottle rocket, if we can spare one. Then we shoot it off in the direction we last saw him going. The first time we sent a can opener. We might be stuck here but we're not stupid. We sit in bars, huddled under the TVs, waiting for some news. We don't know whether we hope he'll come back, but we know one of us will have to be the next person brave enough to defy this rock.


XII

There's nothing good I have to leave you with, but it doesn't mean I have nothing good to say. Just nothing good for this occasion. There's probably a good story or anecdote with which I can tie this whole project together and wash my hands of it, but I can't find it. Truth is, not much of substance can stay on the surface of my memory for very long. Not long enough to be written down anyway. Maybe I chuckle, maybe I cringe. Every once in a while I'll yell something to drown out the thought. This is probably how the people who yell at me on the train got that way. It all started with a few regrets and a bad coping mechanism. For a long time writing, or at least storytelling, was my coping mechanism. But that doesn't really suffice anymore. I can no longer write in service of myself. I can't say exactly what it will be for, but it if I am to make anything it will have to be with a sense of greater purpose. I can't say that it will be high art in service of the revolution, but I can say it will be a decent attempt at making a decent world.

I won't be flying the spaceships, but I can take you to space with my stories. I won't be the next charismatic leader, but I can write his speeches. I won't be playing on the next album that defines a generation, but I can at least write the liner notes. It will never be enough, but the man with aspirations is never at peace. Thank you for supporting this folly. I don't even need your applause, I can let myself out.

The Ozone Shack's Top 13 Albums of 2013

2013 was a little bit of slim pickins. Approximately 56% of the music made was acapella covers of "Royals" on Youtube and most of the rest was by bands whose album covers look like they were taken through an instagram filter. So here's what we got. But first I should address...

The Problem of The Afterman

In 2012, I screwed up. I mean, I screwed up in a lot of ways with my professional and personal life, but I also screwed up with my album of the year. I gave the first half of a double album the album of the year. Remember when Return of the King won best picture? IT was obvious it should have gone to Fellowship of the Ring two years earlier, but there's no way you can give the first installment of a planned trilogy best picture. And that's what I did. By giving Coheed and Cambria's The Afterman: Ascension album of the year, I gave Fellowship of the Ring best picture. Now Descension comes out and I can't give it album of the year. So I removed it from the running. But really, it's de facto album of the year. I just won't recognize it as such. (But you know it is.)
Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry The Defiant by Coheed and Cambria on Grooveshark
#13
Stone Sour
House of Gold and Bones

Much like Afterman, House of Gold and Bones is a metal concept double-album about a comic book written by the bandleader, in this case former Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor. Bluesy metal riffs meet with pyrotechnic rock, hardcore, and post-grunge. To be honest, I don't know what the story is about, but it has something to do with a character called "The Human" who begins as a ball of pure existential pain, in a strange sphere that is part of a Milton-esque cosmology. This may be an unpopular comparison to someone coming from any musical perspective, but House of Gold and Bones sounds sort of like everything early Avenged Sevenfold should have sounded like. There's gritty vocals, crunchy guitar timbre, and drum beats that walk the fine line between groovy and blasting.
Black John by Stone Sour on Grooveshark

#12
Volbeat
Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies

Michael Poullsen says he got his inspiration for this album "listening to Johnny Cash and Elvis in one ear and Creator and Merciless Fate in the other." So here we have it, a Rockabilly Cowboy Metal band from Denmark. Tonally and harmonically, it's much more European and classically based, but the ethos is American blues based metal. And harmonicas, did I mention there's a harmonica? It's interesting to hear a Scandinavian's take on Western ballads and Johnny Cash-esque tales from the wrong side of the law. Forget spaghetti western, this is a Smørrebrød Western. There's also a cover of Young the Giant's "My Body," because apparently one band whose vocalist has a slight but noticeably comical accent needs to be covered by another.
Lola Montez by Volbeat on Grooveshark

#11
Dream Theater
Dream Theater

This is the quintessential Dream Theater album. So it makes sense they just called it Dream Theater. Asymmetrical riffs pulled off with technical precision, a Rush tribute riff, dancing chromatic sixteenth note triplet guitar runs, dire yet uplifting philosophical lyrics, throat singing, and of course, a 20 minute suite. "Enigma Machine" might even be the quintessential dream theater song. These guys are the Giving Tree of prog metal. They've given us so much already and just keep pumping it out.
Enigma Machine by Dream Theater on Grooveshark

#10
Kurt Vile
Wakin on a Pretty Daze

Well shit, look what I done. I listened to some goddam indie band with a pretentious name (does anyone actually know who Kurt Weill was?) and I'll be slurpin corn pone at the county fair if I were to say I didn't like it. Also, please don't make me slurp corn pone at the county fair, I don't even know what that would be like, how much I could eat or if people would be watching or if I could just do it behind a tent alone with nothing but my shame, while on the outside world, rosy cheeked wholesome teenagers exchange promise rings and win plush whatevers from gap-toothed carneys on the run from the troopers two states over. Because that's what we're all doing, really. Except our corn pone is metaphysical poverty, and the the tent that sequesters us from the world is our cult of materialism. And Kurt Vile? He's outside leaning against the propane generator, having a cigarette.
Was All Talk by Kurt Vile on Grooveshark

#9
Steve Wilson
The Raven that Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)

Steve Wilson, the antidote to Thom Yorke, gave us this sprawling prog epic of excellent musicianship. I had been hoping for a long time that Steve Wilson's band, Porcupine Tree, would pump out another album sometime soon, but instead we got this nice substitute. Strap yourself in for 54 minutes of genre discord, haunting melodies, and top quality studio work.
The Watchmaker by Steven Wilson on Grooveshark

#8
Valerie June
Pushin Against a Stone

A daughter of Memphis soul and bluegrass teams up the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach to make a haunting, bluesy album. It comes out of the dusk on a languid breeze, both enchanting you and making you feel like the loneliest person in the world. Auerbach's influence shows on tracks like "Can't Be Told," but there are also some bluegrass tinged gems like "Someone to Love" and "Tennessee Time."
You can't be Told by Valerie June on Grooveshark

#7
Bombino
Nomad

Oh look, this one was also produced by Dan Auerbach. For those not in the know, Bombino is a guitarist from Niger, playing in a style known as desert blues. It's basically traditional Berber and Tuareg music electrified. Because this music shares a lot of its harmonic language with the Blues (in fact, this is where it came from) it sounds a lot like the blues. But make no mistake, it is not derivative, the desert blues is its own tradition. And of course, like on every desert blues album, there's the obligatory song about how the Tenere desert is both harsh and beautiful. We get it already.
Her Tenere by Bombino on Grooveshark

#6
Scale the Summit
The Migration

I discovered these guys a few years ago when they toured with 3 and Cynic. Formed by two Houston-to-LA transplants Chris Letchford and Travis Levrier, Scale the summit is all about technical perfection and incredible musicianship. On The Migratoini, they roll out a carpet of triumphant leads, aggressive riffs, and delicious bass lines. Speaking of bass solo (bass so lo you can't hear it!) there's the song "Evergreen," reminiscent of Jaco Pastorius' "Portrait of Tracy." It all wraps up in a finale which the band described as "their most difficult song yet." With the skills these guys have, that's saying something.
Atlas Novus by Scale The Summit on Grooveshark

#5
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
II

If I had to call this album something (which I guess I do since I'm writing about it) I would say minimalist psychedelia. Drums, bass, slinky guitar work, and soft-spoken, harmonized vocals. And drugs. So many drugs.
No Need for a Leader by Unknown Mortal Orchestra on Grooveshark

#4
Portugal. The Man
Evil Friends

Portugal. The Man runs the line between enlightenment and hedonism, or at least that's how they want us to see them. Really, they're just weird. A couple of weird dudes from Alaska with guitars and drums and a few synthesizers. This took a little more getting used to than 2011's In the Mountain in the Cloud, and there was no song that stood out as much. (In fact, the lead single was probably the weakest on the album.) But there's some more maturity here, and after pumping out eight albums in nine years, Portugal. The Man knows how to make a Portugal. The Man album. "Atomic Man" may just be the best breakup song ever written, with the line "After you I don't know what I believe in / After you hell should be easy."
Sea of Air by Portugal. The Man on Grooveshark

#3
Palms
Palms

What do you get when you take three members from Isis and mix them with Chino Moreno of the Deftones? You get Palms, a tapestry of dark ambient post-rock. Whether you're brooding in a dark room, skinning racoons in your garage, carving cryptic messages into the walls of your basement, or running from the monsters that live in your brain, this is the album for you.
Tropics by Palms on Grooveshark

#2
Janelle Monae
The Electric Lady

Janelle Monae set out to create "something nobody had heard before," and while she didn't quite transport us to a new sonic dimension, she came pretty close to her goal. Futurism meets oldschool in this masterwork of soul. Oh yeah, and Prince is on the album. Fucking Prince! From the hip-jiggling "Dance Apocalyptic" to the strutting "Rock and Roll" to the epic power ballad "Primetime," to the neo-soul of the title track, this album weaves together a tapestry of slick urban sound.
Dance Apocalyptic by Janelle Monáe on Grooveshark

#1
Crash of Rhinos
Knots

I picked Knots for Album of the Year on speculation. I don't believe it has reached the level of appreciation I will eventually feel for it a month, six months, a year, maybe even a decade down the line. But I can't know that until the time comes. This album feels like one where I'll keep noticing things to appreciate over the years - just as I have with albums like Second Stage Turbine Blade, London Calling, Pikul, Gut the Van, Graceland, Wish You Were Here, and Deloused in the Comatorium - rock (or rockish) albums where you appreciate something you hadn't before with each listening.

I suppose I should share the story of how I came across this album, for it involves being a judgmental asshole. My roommate and I were sitting around talking about pretentious indie bands with stupid names. We somehow got it in our heads that Pitchfork review scores were based entirely on how stupid and pretentious the band or artists name sounded. To test this, we went on Pitchfork and looked for the band with what had, in our estimation at the time, the worst offending name. At that point I didn't realize there was a band called "Fuck Buttons" (really) and if I had I would have never found Crash of Rhinos.

My roommate clicked the link and started reading the review aloud to me. They had a pretty good score so our hypothesis hadn't been debunked. But it actually sounded like they were a pretty cool band. Or at least that's what the review sounded like, I can never actually understand what Pitchfork reviews are saying and they may indeed be written by bots. So my roommate downloaded the album, and we listened to the whole thing that afternoon. We were impressed.

We agreed, Crash of Rhinos is what Explosions in the Sky would sound like if they were a hardcore band. The guitar work somehow manages to be ambient and driving, and you paradoxically float over this driving groove. It makes me feel like I haven't since, really, freshman year of high school. Where you're both cynical about everything around you but you have the feeling of wonder as everything is still new to be discovered. It's good to remember that. I still have much to discover.



Song of the Year
"Whopper and a Forty" by Brad Neely


The Ones that Almost Made It (But Didn't)

#14 Pearl Jam, Lightning Bolt

#15 Jim James; Regions of Light, Sounds of God

#16 Superchunk, I hate Music

#17 Sigur Ros, Kveikur

#18 Jake Bugg, Shangri La

#19 Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks

#20 Queens of the Stone Age, ...Like Clockwork

#21 Low, The Invisible Way,

#22 TesseracT, Altered State

#23 Iron & Wine, Ghost on Ghost

#24 Pretty Lights, A Color Map of the Sun

#25 That one Neko Case album with a really long title

#2 Dance Gavin Dance, Acceptance Speech

#27 Streetlight Manifesto, The Hands that Thieve

#28 Deafhaven, Sunabther

#29 Colin Stetson, New History Warfare vol. 3: To See More Light

#30 Daft Punk, Random Access Memories

#31 August Burns Red, Rescue & Restore

#32 Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

#33 James Blake, Overgrown,

#34 Gogol Bordello, Pura Vida Conspiracy

#35 Killswitch Engage, Disarm the Dissent

#36 Karnivool, Asymmetry

#37 Cass McCombs, Big Wheel

#38 Noah and the Whale, Heart of Nowhere

#39 The Strokes, Comedown Machine

Biggest Disappointment: Tegan & Sara, Hearthtrob
I was expecting another delightfully weird release from the alt-something duo of Canadian lesbian identical twins. Instead they made a bunch of garbage pop songs.

Well that was 2013. I expect the list for 2014 to be dominated by washboardcore and recordings of Jeff Tweedy's night terrors.

A Veteran's Day Story

Veteran's Day is a national holiday, but this isn't a story about American soldiers. Since the holiday originated as the more globally-minded Armistice Day, I think there's room in this day to honor the soldiers of other nations and other causes, even if the causes they first started fighting for were as simple as baseball and beer.

Elliot Dalton joined the Queens Own Rifles of Canada, a kind of army reserve, during peacetime. Canadian military bases had a competitive league, about the same level of play as mid-level minor league teams. Elliot was a pretty good baseball player - not quite Major League caliber, but good enough for his talents to be of use in the Canadian Armed Forces League.  It being peacetime, the bases were more concerned about this league than they were about preparing for war, so it seems, because the Queens Own Rifles enlisted Elliot as a ringer.

His brother Charlie Dalton heard from Elliot that they were allowed to sell alcohol on army bases. Charlie loved beer, and this was a problem, because back then the whole province of Ontario was dry. Except, for some reason, the military bases. Again, it was Canada in peacetime, very few fucks were given.

A few years roll by and it's not exactly peacetime anymore. In fact, it's World War II, and the Canadians are fighting alongside the Allies. The brothers Dalton are both officers in the Queen's Own Rifles, and both end up commanding battalions landing in the first wave at Juno Beach on D-Day. Before loading into their respective landing crafts, their only parting words were "I'll see you tonight," confident they would both make it through one of the bloodiest days in human history.

Elliot had the distinction of being the first Canadian officer to land on the beach on D-Day. Not only did he and most of his battalion survive, but they were able to secure their position of the beachhead, make it off the beach, and push inland, making it all the way to Bernier by mid-morning. Things didn't go as smoothly for Charlie and his battalion. His landing craft hit a mine in the water and he had to swim ashore with a piece of shrapnel in his ass after abandoning most of his ammunition to stay afloat. When he found his way to a foxhole, he picked up a non-jammed rifle from a dead soldier, and then managed to rally his troops, who were in severe disarray, and lead a charge on a pillbox. In doing so, he ensured that the second wave of troops landing in that area were met with almost no resistance. As they tried to move inland, they encountered a Panzer division and were forced to retreat across a minefield.

In the confusion, Charlie Dalton was presumed dead, and his family, including Elliot, was told as such. A few days later, Elliot was wounded, grazed by a bullet in the head after trying to advance further inland. But the whole taking a bullet to the head thing was taken by the higher ups to mean that he was dead, because that's usually what happens when you take a bullet to the head. So while he was recovering in a field hospital, the rest of his family was notified that he too had died.

Several days later he was taken to a hospital in England. As he was being processed, a nurse told them that there was already someone in the bed they had planned to put him in. Elliot told her that was ridiculous, because that bed was reserved for Major Dalton.

Then nurse went in to ask the man in the bed who he was. "He says that he is Major Dalton," she reported.

"Well I don't care who the hell he says he is," said Elliot, "I'm major Dalton dammit!"

Once another bed was made for Elliot, he was rolled into the room to find that there was, in fact, a Major Dalton in the room. It was Charlie, who had been taken to that same hospital the same day he was presumed dead. Like Elliot, Charlie had also been told that his brother was dead. Their mutual indignation turned to joy when both brothers discovered the other was alive. Oh, and despite the headshot and infected shrapnel wound between them, they both recovered in time to liberate the Netherlands.

Elliot and Charley Dalton were two of my dad's uncles, making them both my great uncles. I wasn't sure how much of that story was true and how much was added through the family oral history. But a few years ago I found out that it was all true, when the Queens Own Rifles of Canada named an armory (they spell it armoury back up there) after them. My dad went to Toronto for the dedication. There was a military parade and some speeches. But when he finally got the chance to ask about the story in the military hospital, he found out it was all true. In fact, it has become a piece of the Queen's Own Rifle's of Canada lore. So remember that your veterans weren't always fighting for an ideal or some imaginary line on a map. They were fighting for baseball, for beer, and for each other.

Baseball for the People

Justin Flom weighs in on the ALDS and baseball from the Oakland perspective with far more sincerity than I could muster.

It’s October 10, 2013. My brother’s birthday. The Oakland Athletics have just lost the ALDS to the Detroit Tigers. I. Am. Devastated.

Admittedly biased, I believe that the best team in baseball has just lost the chance to prove the most important fact about baseball. But let me get to that in a moment.

Let me first say that Detroit played an incredible series. They have incredible pitching and a top of the line line-up any normal human being would intentionally walk, bases loaded. But the most important part of the former two sentences is that I mention that “Detroit played an incredible series.” This is because for at least a little while, I still grasp onto the tenet that baseball is the most human of sports. It has moments of great expectation, but it also has the looming attitude that money owns all in the modern age. A baseball team belongs to a city and a region instead of before a business owner. And slowly and in an agonizing fashion, this is becoming less true.

Tonight the A’s lost. After Pittsburgh lost to St. Louis, after Tampa lost to Boston, and after Atlanta lost to Los Angeles. Each of these match-ups indicates the smaller spender losing to the bigger spender.

Here’s where I worry about the baseball situation. Although the Bay Area culture would have you believe otherwise, Oakland Athletics fans don’t mind the San Francisco Giants that much. What they really mind is the perversion of the idea that a sports team belongs to a group of people, NOT a group of investors. I LOVE Oakland. I’ve never claimed it as my address. I’ve never worked for a business in the city. But, I have lived in the area, the East Bay, supported its businesses when I could and understood how frickin’ difficult it is to ensure greatness when no one else expects it. Not all East Bay people do that. A lot just cling onto the Giants because… San Francisco is an effortless thing to like. Oakland is for those who have something to prove.

The San Francisco Giants are AWESOME. Hunter Pence is one of my favorite batters in baseball and those who have followed every game he has played this season (all of them) are great. But few understand that Giants fans often discriminate against Oakland for not having as many garlic fry vendors and not having a large Coca-Cola Slide in left field. The reason why Giants fans are majority is not because of heart and geography, but because of comfort, tourism and Barry Bonds sensationalism. There are certain things that lure in the baseball’s lowest common denominator: Not the least of people, but rather the kind of folk who merely care about economic status and social likeability – People who I can not entirely understand, but that I must respect because they are. Giants fans, even fair-weather, care about something. That is good because caring about something is the first step in caring about something important. Those that care merely about money, however, I can not sympathize with.

As I watched tonight’s Detroit vs. Oakland game, I ultimately witnessed two warring sides. The first was Detroit’s Dave Dombrowski who flagrantly mocked Oakland and flaunted his and his son’s wealth with shiny suit jackets and a green tie. While I entirely respect Detroit and their Tigers, this inconsistency in values made me weep for inconsistent ownership priorities. A single man and his son could wear glimmering suit jackets as the city that claimed them fortune went into bankruptcy. To them, this was glory.

At the same time, the Oakland owners, Fisher and Wolff, could march on either the victory or downfall of the team. With a win there were more ticket sales, with a loss, there were more odds of moving a team to San Jose.

I can’t prove that behind closed doors conniving is going on. I can’t say for certain that owners are pushing for San Jose ownership of the A’s because it’s more profitable. I can’t say that Bud Selig and the MLB are stacking the umpiring rosters to screw over Oakland’s chances. But what I can say is this: 2013 was a great year for the A’s. It was a great year for Oakland, and it was a great year for the East Bay. Billy Beane got us to the ALDS once again, the film “Fruitvale Station” brought us back into the light of social rights and the city was able to claim multiple articles in developing back into artistic and economic relevance. What I can say for sure is that baseball belongs to a people: Even Oakland, which has already borrowed from Philly and KC. (My father was an A’s fan in Kansas City before he moved to the East Bay).

The time ought to be over for moving teams to where they can make the most money. American sports institutions have already proven that they can make money. It’s time for American sports institutions to prove that they actually are invested in the integrity of America and especially local culture. I love that OKC can support a basketball team. I love that Winnipeg wants the name of the Jets back and especially, I love that Montreal misses the fact that the Expos are gone. But it doesn’t make a good excuse to tear a team away from a city. This is the reason I’ll never respect the Washington Nationals. You don’t move a team just because they will make more money somewhere else. America (and Canada) are mature enough to know that freedom is great and you don’t exploit that.

Detroit went bankrupt this year. Its owner did not. He only profited. St. Louis recorded, once again, one of the highest crime rates per capita. Boston was attacked by bombmakers and as much as I dislike Los Angeles, LA still prevails over one of the most complicated immigration and crime situations the world has ever seen. Yet the owners of each city’s respective teams profited significantly while the city has struggled and the team been proud to prevail.

Really, in baseball, there is a winner and a loser, but there is not a better and a lesser. It’s time to stop treating the situation as such. It’s not human. There may be a more profitable and less profitable, but that doesn’t mean it should be a more and a fewer.

Sure. There are people who say the Oakland Athletics would be more profitable in San Jose. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a thousand East Bay residents who know the A’s, being in Oakland are still profitable, even if it’s only by a few dollars, and would say it’s still worth it.

So whoever wins the world series from here: Detroit, Boston, St. Louis or Los Angeles, there is a city who will go nuts about it and that is an awesome thing. Any excuse for a city to celebrate greatness is a good thing, but it is time for such an attitude to quit being “official.” To stop letting it be ESPN’s decision and “expert” opinion. To stop letting the power of the fan go from the person who can afford to buy the season-long box seat over the guy who sits in the cheapest seats and screams his lungs out every day he can get off of work.

The reason why this postseason loss felt so horrible for me was not because it was a loss for just my baseball team, it was because it felt like a loss for my team, for my city, for my people. I wanted to win so bad because the owners of our team have threatened that it might be the third or fourth last chance. Put yourself in those shoes, no matter what sport you rattle your nerves with. For Oakland A’s fans, this season was not just a battle against the other teams, but against a system that emphasized the importance of corporate sponsorship and an organization that touts itself as perfectly equal but really isn’t. Let’s love people and communities as they are; Not the size of their population or amount of revenue they can accumulate. Baseball isn’t about revenue, it’s about heart. It’s what makes us feel weird in our chest between April and October. It’s what makes us say that this could be our year, even if it isn’t, even if it totally was. It’s what kills us with every strike out and lifts us through every base hit. You don’t put a money value on those feelings, and if you do, it’s because you wanted to win, not because you wanted to put a money value on it.

An East Bay Original

Man has to create karma, that's the way it is / Man has to keep going way beyond his will / Man has to keep on being 'cause there's nothing else / A man just always has to go for himself"
-Van Morrison, Man Has To Struggle

Young, liberal, educated people should not use cliches, my young, liberal, and educated brain tells me. We should not think in cliches. And we certainly should not see the world operating in cliches. But despite all that, I can say with certainty the "baseball as a metaphor for life" is a shadowy figure stalking me in a dark alley.

It's the eve of the NLDS between the Oakland A's and the Detroit Tigers. And we once again have the familiar narrative of a team on a shoestring (by Major Leagues standards) budget going up against a Goliath. Even if, they're really not the underdog, having secured home-field advantage. Even if, they've proven every year that when an economy-class player comes to Oakland, magic happens. But they're still perpetual underdogs.

The truth is, most of us are perpetual underdogs. The A's are perpetual underdogs; on paper, going into any season or playoff matchup, they will not look as good. We have to prove ourselves at every opportunity. Because of their lack of star power and admittedly decrepit stadium, the A's have to demonstrate, every time they're in the spotlight, that they deserve to be there. You have to exploit what's not being exploited. We've all seen or at least heard passing mention of Moneyball, so we know that the A's have been forced, out of necessity, to find gold where everyone else sees garbage. We're all trying to assert who we are, and we're more like the Oakland A's than most of us realize.

Back in my former life as a runner, I ran for a mid-major level school in the NCAA. Our coach would tell us that as an athlete for a team in our position, you had to make the uniform happen every time you put one on. There was no flashy University of Oregon O on the front, no BCS Conference logo anywhere. There was no cache that came just from putting on the uniform. You had to make it with your performance. You have to, no, you get to, make make the identity that comes with the uniform, each time. And every time, you had to, no, again, you get to, create that identity from scratch.

Most people know this, though not necessarily in a sporting context. You're doing this every time you represent where you're from and who you are. I don't mean that in a hip-hop REPRESENT kind of way, although that is an excellent example. Chances are, you're from a place that's second to somewhere else. For Oakland and the rest of the East Bay, that place is right across the water.

San Francisco has attained that kind of mythical status, along with cities like New York, London, Paris, and Rome, where the name alone is enough to conjure an air of romanticism and wonder. People living in these cities or moving to these cities don't have to do anything to contribute to the culture; the culture exists as an innate part of these cities, built into their very framework. San Francisco is a city rich in icons and mythology. It's a place you go to find yourself because the city can give and you don't have to give anything back in return.

This cultural monolith both absorbs and overshadows the other cities in the Bay Area. There's nearly 6.5 million of us living outside of "The City." Still, many people place their identity in San Francisco because it sparkles more, the name carries more weight. There's Hunter S. Thompson riding a cable car while eating the world's most authentic tacos from the Mission. People are a lot less willing identify as being from places such as Oakland, San Jose, or Fremont, not because there's anything intrinsically wrong with those cities, but because San Francisco is an identity magnet. It's a place people want to be from because it makes them interesting without actually having to be interesting.

(Oh look, it's a Coastal Californian bitching about how where he's from doesn't get enough respect. Cry me fucking river!)

In the East Bay, we have that mid-major situation going on. We have to make an identity for ourselves with every action. And the A's, in a lot of ways, are the mid-major team of the Major Leagues. They will be underrated. They will receive proportionally lacking coverage for their successes. You could say putting on the green and gold jersey doesn't carry as much respect nationally as some other jerseys. That is, until you start winning.

The A's aren't just the area's "other" team, like the Angels, Mets, or White Sox; they're the team from the area's "other city." People are not only swayed by Giant's nice new stadium where they can watch players hit baseballs into the ocean, but because it's San Francisco.

They'll be going up against a team whose star makes more than their entire payroll, but that's nothing new for the A's. The identity, carved out by years of performance and then brought to the nation's conciseness by Moneyball is that they will hold their own against, and win, in these situations. But that identity only gets reaffirmed upon performance. There's no magic that comes with putting on the uniform and stepping out into the ballpark. It's an identity based on showing up when no one thinks you will. A scrappy underdog can only be one by performing and an undervalued player can only show he's undervalued by defying expectations.

I'm not going to go so far as to say the A's are America's Team, or the People's Team. But they represent a predicament that most of are caught in. You have to work every day to make and maintain your identity. Nobody is going to hand you a positive version of who you are. That is made by your actions.

Every day you put on the uniform that is your skin. What are you going make of it? What will you have it represent? People might write you off as a bum or a thug or a loser, they might write you off because of your skin color, how you dress, how you talk, where you're from, and what you don't have. No matter what, or who you are, you're probably an undervalued player in life. You might be playing in the shadow of a mythical city, and you will be struggling to define yourself. It's a struggle that will never end. But every time you show up, and you make it happen, your task for the day will be accomplished.

Entropy

"But if I had never tried, how could I try again?"
-Joey Eppard, Balloon

Running is one hell of a drug, and I seem to have relapsed. And believe me, it was a drug I abused. Some people ran for recreation, or for breast cancer, or to get balls of color thrown at them. I was apparently on a mission to destroy myself. I'm surprised it took me so long to do so, because my body is apparently held together with dental floss and chewing gum.

Once I stepped away from the track (at the time, I thought it would be forever) my body was no longer saturated with cortisol and I could think clearly. It was then I began to realize all the things I had been doing wrong, all the coulda shoulda wouldas in my career. But then I realized all the things I could do which had been so off limits before. Simple things like staying up late or making spontaneous road trips were now things I could do as I tried to integrate into baseline humanity. I also realized something else. Since I had never needed to exercise just to stay in shape, I had no concept of recreational exercise. I couldn't fathom that you just go to the gym or hit the roads just to keep the entropy away. Or that you even had to. So entropy happened to me.

At first, everything started to feel better because it didn't have to carry my 80 miles every week. It was nourished by high energy foodstuffs such as hydrogenated soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, and flour so refined it doesn't even know what farting is. For a while, this was all good. I needed to repair. You can't make repairs while you're moving, and you certainly can't make repairs without parts. Then the aforementioned entropy started creeping in. Everything just got so weak that all the injuries that forced me to quit running started getting worse even though I wasn't running a step.

That's another thing I learned. I used running to escape my crippling social anxiety. It makes sense that you're staying in on a Saturday night if you have to get up and run 18 miles on Sunday morning. But when you don't have anything to do on Sunday except watch football and maybe nurse a hangover, it's a lot harder to reconcile why you're sitting in your room watching Netflix on the preceding Saturday night. (I guess now I could justify it to the world by posting "LOL I'M AN INTROVERT" on my facebook page but that seems like cheating, and would most definitely be lying.)

I had both the indulgent personality and savviness of a college freshman away from controlling, moralizing parents for the first time. Lump on top of that a kid from a household where soda and candy were taboo and who certainly wasn't allowed taco bell. Maybe even throw in a pinch of an Amish kid on Rumspringa. And all of this was hitting me at age 21, where I first had the opportunity to live like a reckless young person but paradoxically felt I had the body of an old man.

A brief side story about the Amish because this is too good of an opportunity to pass up: There was an Amish man from a nearby community who would show up to parties at my cousin's frat house at Penn State. At the end of the night he would stumble to his buggy. My cousin once asked him if he would be able to make it home on a night when he seemed particularly intoxicated. The man replied "I'm fine, my horse knows the way!"

Right when I started being able to jog for a mile or two without feeling like the disintegration of my body was imminent, I got a concussion by falling and hitting my head after giving blood, proving that no good deed goes unpunished. Now that was entirely my fault, since in the course of the previous two days I had killed half a 30-rack of Coors Banquet Beer and then only had two bags of fruit snacks for breakfast. Upon being revived, my blood pressure was 80 over 20. In layman's terms, that means my heart was pretty damn close to stopping. Now being in a blood bank is a pretty good place to have your heart stop, I would imagine, since they have a couple AEDs in the room. So concussed and unable to exercise, I grew soft and doughy.

There were bouts of regular physical activity. I would go on a few runs in a week, I would play Frisbee, I would swim in the ocean. But I kept getting sick or my back would get jacked up again and then I was back to being Cecil the Sessile Slug

I remember at one point, walking for two miles made my hip hurt a great deal. But three months later, after a journey across the country and back, which included lots of walking and some mad dashes to catch buses, I walked from the rim of the Grand Canyon and back in a single day, chafing at the bit because some people in my group had to slow down for a thing as silly as heat exhaustion. Spine in allignment, hips stable, ankles sturdy, muscles moving in perfect rhythmic integration. A journey makes you younger. I wanted to get back in the shape I once was, because now I knew I could. And I don't know how to do that by just exercising; I have to train. So I thought, why not, I'll try again.

This time is not the same. I don't have the time, resources, or durability to train like I used to. I'm training for shorter events, probably solely focusing on the 800 meters, because it requires less volume. I have no delusions of grandeur and am not expecting any kind of success. I don't ever expect to run a personal best ever again, (although I will certainly try). And I'm not using a training calendar, or even a specific workout schedule. I have a list of workouts which I plan to do, in order. When I do them is entirely based on how I feel. If I feel good enough, I'm hitting the track hard. If not, I'm jogging easy on the roads, or just sitting on my ass and letting things heal. If I miss a day of training, it will get done eventually. I'm under no time crunch and I certainly have no expectations.

Training is kind of like making a mix tape for your physiological systems. You need to send the right message, not too strong, but you also can't beat around the bush. That's why you have to calibrate your intensity to Goldilocks levels. And I didn't realize this until it was too late.

But now I'm just glad to run and to move around. Maybe just for my sanity, maybe just for something to focus on. I've got a stack of index cards with workouts written on them that I draw from every few days, and a dirt track right down the street with my name on it. I might not have any money for shoes or nutritional food, but neither did Kip Keino at one point. So fueled by frozen food and a lack of fucks to give, I'm off, once again, booking it to nowhere in particular.

Vasco da Gama

Evolution is a privilege reserved for the underdogs.

In the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire kicked the Portuguese out of the Red Sea and blocked most of the overland trade between Europe and Asia. They created a world empire, one of the largest the world had ever seen, with the vision of restoring the Roman Empire under Islamic rule. They even used Rome's second capital, Constantinople. (Which of course you know was re-branded as Istanbul thanks to They Might Be Giants.) They got in power the way everyone had for the past two thousand years before them - conquering, subjugating, and culturally dominating.

Now the people on the Iberian Peninsula weren't too happy about this. They were blocked from the overland trade routes which had connected them with India and China since the Pax Romana. And they figured they would prosper because they controlled these trade routes. They would sit on the established patterns to success which they had commandeered and rake in the gold bullion. They had the Afro-Eurasian trade networks by the balls and thought that things would always be that way.

The Spaniards and the Portuguese now had the privilege of being the underdogs. Instead of looking at the world and assuming that it must continue as it always had, they were forced to find new ways to gain power and wealth. So the Portuguese did what no one else had done before and sailed strait to India, all the way around the Cape of Good Hope. The Spaniards made an even greater leap, attempting to sail to India by going west, something no one had ever dreamed of before. And it would have worked, were there not a whole hemisphere in their way. So instead of the traditional land-based empire, extracting tribute and coming in with the imperial army once a decade or so to trash the native population, they opted for a maritime-based, mercantile states.

Western Europe went on to write the next chapter of world history, doing all kinds of horrible things to the native peoples they encountered. And the Ottoman Empire would enter into a slow decline for 400 years until Britain and France, who were the runts of the litter at the time of Ottoman Turkey's ascendancy, carved up the Middle East according to their own designs.

Maybe the cycle has started over. Maybe the empire of trade is over. I wouldn't know, I'm an American (partially). I don't have the perspective of the underdog. I can't evolve.

Interstate Blues


Standing in Buffalo Park, a bluff above Flagstaff, it's hard not to be struck by the full moon. At an altitude of over 7,000 feet there's less atmospheric interference so it looks like there's a floodlight on everything, every diction you look. But it's not just the altitude that makes Flagstaff a unique city for looking at celestial phenomena. It's the world's first dark sky city. Meaning, it's the first city in the world to actively minimize its light pollution. The streetlights are designed to emit barely any ambient light on anything but the streets themselves, and there are strict codes on what kind of lighting setups businesses can have. And even up here in Buffalo Park, looking out over Flagstaff's dark sky, you can still hear the roar of two interstate highways meeting.

But this city owes its existence, or at least its current state of existence, to that very interstate. Flagstaff is located only 70 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and it's the city you have to drive through to get there. And you'll probably end up staying here too, since Nature in all her wonder doesn't seem to be enough stimuli for the people who hop out of their cars at the rim and wave their iPads around for a few minutes and then go to a motel so they can watch real hosewives of somewhere on the story box. The next day they will drive another eight hours to spend another few minutes with their iPads in front of another natural wonder. It's where the tourists come, and it's also where the truckers come, and the road trippers who haven't seen anything but mountains and desert for hours in both directions. It's also the place you have to pass through to get to Las Vegas or LA from a big chunk of the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard. And it's all because Interstates 40 and 17 meet right in the center of town.

It's not hard to see that for many Americans, where you live has been determined by the Eisenhower Administration. If you look at one of those pictures of America at night, or for the more empirically minded, one of those maps where a red dot represents x many people, you'll see that population patters form a Cartesian grid across the middle. The people go where the roads go.

Flagstaff itself might be the exception that proves the rule. It first rose to prominence because of the railroad lines, and then was sustained by the oft-romanticized Route 66. Now two only two trains stop each day, one going east and one going west, and Route 66 is a creation myth. But it survived as the hub of Northern Arizona because, well, as far as the interstate patterns go, it is the hub. It's why Flagstaff is Flagstaff, instead of Holbrook or Winslow or Bellemont or Williams. And it wasn't just a silly name that's kept Tuba City from taking that place. Instead of the roads fitting the population geography, the population geography fits where the roads are.

But how has the interstate system shaped our minds? Or more specifically, how does the interstate make us think about where we are and where we're headed? (In a strictly literal sense, and not the kind of literal that actually means figuratively.) Because if you're headed somewhere, you're probably taking the interstate.

That's how I got to Flagstaff. It was in a van that doubled as the owner's house. I found the ride on Craigslist. We left Albuquerque at 10 AM and got to Flagstaff at 2:30 PM, the whole time taking just one road. We needed no landmarks to navigate. We crossed the Continental Divide without having to find the most gradual ascent or the most suitable passage. The interstate took us there.

And still, this is some of the more scenic fare the interstate system has to offer. Between the Rockies and the Appalachians, all you can see from the interstate is urban sprawl and signs for gas stations on top of long poles. There's no navigating that has to take place other than figuring out which exit to take and maybe a few interchanges.

The problem I have with this way of navigating is that you're not aware of how where you're going is related to where you are, and you certainly aren't aware of any of the points in between. There's no spatial awareness being developed, no mental map being made of the land and the terrain. It's just a series of tubes that will get you to your destination. Every place becomes an isolated location in which you just appear.

Now we don't even need to look at a map. Your phone just tells you where to turn if you ask it. There's no brainwork involved in figuring it out.

I've always been a person who values knowing exactly where I am, and where that is in relation to everything else. I have a smart phone but I don't use the GPS. I look at the map and figure out where I'm going manually. Why? Because I like my mind being engaged that way. And I want to know where I am.

The most useless people when it comes to orienting themselves are generally the ones who grew up in mass-produced suburbias. They've got to be driven everywhere in your mom's minivan, with a gameboy or DVD player in the backseat to keep them from looking out the window and observing where they're going. These kids grow up thinking you just appear in places. They don't see how all the places are connected. And most of us, thanks to the interstate system and internet-assisted navigation.

Now I'm all for progress, but I don't know if I would call this progress. Technology has advanced, but our brains have regressed in a certain kind of spatial understanding. Call me idealistic but I think that technology exists to make humans better and more effective, not the other way around. (I think even Ray Kurzweil could agree with me on that one.) Technological advances are a failed endeavor if they downgrade humans in the process.

So let's be aware of where we are. Look at a map, look at the landmarks, watch the subtle changes in ecosystem and landscape as you go. And find your way without asking the internet or your phone where to go. Think of it like a game. And you get points for doing well. Those points make your brain level up and then eventually you get a better brain.

But if you don't use your brain, it will never level up.