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Since I’ve Been Gone

Due to extenuating circumstances, it’s been awhile since my last post. In the past 44 days, what had looked so promising has completely fallen apart. No, I’m not referring to the economy, the weather, or Rick Santorum’s campaign. I only focus on the important issues in life. Like the Eastern Conference Playoff picture.

According to the standings on March 5, we would’ve had these matchups.

1. Chicago Bulls vs. 8. New York Knicks

Melo hadn’t started his recent tear, but, with Jeremy Lin in the lineup, we were preparing for a star-studded affair between the team from the World’s Greatest City and the Knicks.

Now, Lin is out, Amare Stoudemire has yet to return, Luol Deng is temporarily shelved, and Derrick Rose can’t seem to stay healthy.  That, and the Knicks appear poised to grab the seven seed, keeping the Charles Smith lowlights on the shelf for at least another year.

2. Miami Heat vs. 7. Boston Celtics

In early March, the Celtics were still slogging through the regular season, but the prospect of the Big Three + Rondo flipping the switch for what could be their last rodeo, and doing so against the new edition of the Big Three, wouldn’t have been short of drama…and future Hall of Famers.

Now, Boston is all but locked in the 4 seed, so this matchup could only happen in the Eastern Conference Finals.

3. Orlando Magic vs. 6. Atlanta Hawks

Hey, NBA TV has to air some games, right? But in all seriousness, seeing Superman battle his Kryptonite (Jason Collins) ain’t bad for what would’ve been the 4th-best opening series.

Now, Dwight is questionable for the playoffs and the Magic have skidded down the standings. Meanwhile, the Hawks remain the Hawks. Predictably and un-excitingly above average.

4. Philadelphia 76ers vs. 5. Indiana Pacers

From Christmas day through early March, the fates of these two surprising young teams devoid of a superstar were tied. It was the Coke or Pepsi argument of the young season – analysts loved picking one dog in this fight, claiming their darling was legit, while the other was a fraud waiting to be exposed. Both were playing well and the chance to see them duke it out and also guarantee one of these green squads would play in the conference semis added a fresh touch to the Eastern Conference landscape. Chicago’s struggles against both also made looking ahead to the second round intriguing(ly terrifying).

Now, Indiana has continued its upward trajectory and has the 3rd seed all but wrapped up, while Philadelphia is proving its doubters wrong by skidding down to the fringe of the playoff picture.

Today

On March 5, we had eight teams with second round talent arranged into four juicy matchups. On April 18, we have one potentially fun matchup – 2. Miami vs. 7. New York – and three stinkers.

Even if the 76ers hold off the Bucks for the 8th seed, they don’t have enough time to right the ship and give Doug Collins a fair shake at revenge against his old employer, Chicago.

If Dwight Howard misses the playoffs as reported, their potential first round matchup with Indy becomes a dud that has no chance of stretching to six games.

And a 4/5 matchup of Boston and Atlanta? Yawn, wake me up when Boston wins.

At this point in mid-April, with the playoffs just a dozen days away, three of the four current series matchups would have almost no shot of going six games. We’d be reliant on New York hanging tough with Miami to provide any sort of first round drama.

Looks like yet another year of watching the Western Conference first round intently, while letting the Eastern heavyweights dismiss of the lesser-thans and walk through the window dressing before we can enjoy the big dogs squaring off.

My Simpsons Education

Over the last week or so, in honor of the show’s 500th episode, bloggers and writers have all paid their respects to The Simpsons. It was a predictable blend of sentimentality and a hipster-ish need to show just how big of a fan, no, way bigger than anyone else, you actually were. The underlying theme is “the show was great and pioneering, it’s slowed down of late, and we may not watch it religiously now, but we’re glad we had it in our life.”

Me? Not only did I grow up with The Simpsons, but they grew up with me, and not only did they grow up with me, but they actually helped me grow. The show taught me obscure facts, the basic plot to several works of classic literature, and armed me with zingers and anecdotes for every situation…”It’s like this one time on The Simpsons…” Most importantly, its vast cast of characters trained me to find the humor in all walks of life. The quirks of the elderly, wealthy, foreign, genius, idiot, or downright pathetic are not meant to mystify or intimidate, they’re meant to entertain. As I experienced more and more of the vast tapestry of the world, I didn’t let it overwhelm or confuse me. I chose to chuckle at it and let it endear itself to me. If Marge can love Homer, and I can laugh at and love Moe and Frink and Burns and Grampa and Willie, I’m prepared to laugh at and love just about anyone.

Our favorite Springfield-ians crashed into my world at eleven years old. The episode? “The Last Temptation of Homer.” The appeal? There were jokes I got, but it was more the presence of jokes I didn’t get that hooked me. The explicitness of sex, extramarital affairs, and illegal aliens named Zutroy opened my eyes to a world I knew nothing about, but about which I wanted to learn everything I could. The subject matter made it risque, but the cartoon characters, the yellow skin, and the “Eat my shorts” jokes somehow made it childish enough to be ok.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, the show taught me much of what I know today. Whenever I spouted an obscure fact at the dinner table, my parents knowingly asked, “Where’d you learn that? The Simpsons?”

The telltale moment (not to be confused with “The Telltale Head” ) occurred in 2000. I was 12 or 13 years old and was a sucker for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? John Carpenter, the first million-dollar winner, returned to partake in the Tournament of Champions, and he was cruising yet again, reaching the $64,000 question without using a single lifeline. Regis asked, “Which of the following operas features The Toreador Song?” I’d never been to an opera, but I immediately spouted, “Carmen!” Mr. Carpenter, on the other hand, didn’t know the answer and had to poll the audience. I was smarter than the smartest man in America. And I had The Simpsons to thank.

Maybe if I’d seen “Bart the Genius” once, I wouldn’t have known the answer, I’d have only been able to replicate Bart and Homer’s mockery of the song: “Toreador, oh don’t spit on the floor!/Use the cuspidor/That’s what it’s for.” But I’d seen that episode at least three times by then and vividly remembered the “Carmen” poster the family passes outside the opera house.

That moment somehow validated all the time I would spend watching and re-watching and re-re-re-re-re watching syndicated episodes. As long as other activities didn’t get in the way, homework got pushed aside at 5:30 and 6:00 every weeknight for reruns. I used my allowance to buy all the episode guides, which I carried in my backpack during junior high and read thoroughly. When I finally caught “Hurricane Neddy” and learned everything there was to know about the University of Minnesota Spankalogical Protocol and Ned’s “freaky beatnik” parents, I had seen all the episodes at least once. The only thing left was to watch them all again.

I’m probably at about 10,000 hours of watching The Simpsons at this point, so, at least according to Malcolm Gladwell, I’m an expert.

“How can you be entertained by this?” my mother would ask. “Even know the lines in this one.” But with each viewing came another revelation or three. Sometimes years passed between viewings, which opened my eyes to new jokes. Learning more about sexuality gave me access to more of the content and double-entendres (Homer shops for farm supplies at a store called “Sneed’s Feed & Seed…Formerly Chuck’s”). College reading assignments and the maturation of my library espoused new chuckles to literary and intellectual references (“You’re reading Gravity’s Rainbow?” “(Disgusted look) Re-reading it”). As I grew up, the show magically grew up with me.

To this day, despite the constraints of adulthood, I still make time for one of my oldest friends. My DVR records all the re-runs, and dead time is filled relaxing, laughing at jokes familiar, forgotten, or surprisingly refreshing.

Over the past couple years, watching the new episodes has transformed from a chore of obligation to a surprising treat. Everyone has their comfort blankets, mine just happens to be a dysfunctional family of five and their fellow townspeople.

One day, we’ll all have to witness the show moving to the Springfield Retirement Castle (where, we can only hope, it will at the very least have a good pair of slippers and an oatmeal spoon). But, like Grampa and his best buds Jasper Beardley and the Old Jewish Man, the show will never die. At least not for me. It will appear in my life once in a blue moon because it went to fetch the morning paper and got lost, or to substitute teach and issue out a paddlin’, or to drop its pants while singing “This Gray Mare.” The show will always embiggen the smallest man. It will live forever, never aging or passing away, not even yellowing with time.

Sposturing

Thanks to Facebook, I now know that a grade school chum is jamming to Talib Kweli in NYC and a college buddy is in San Fran listening to some band I’ve never heard of, but probably should have. I make a note to YouTube some of their songs later.

Spotify, the music consumption service that launched in the US this summer, has streamlined the music poser process. And by music poser, I of course mean 95% of the music listeners in the States.

Music, like all art, is deeply personal. Whether you’re in a packed concert hall or wearing ear buds in your bedroom, the way the sounds reverberate in your ear and the lyrics resonate in your soul is an individually unique experience. A song can evoke emotions from a decade ago or take on a completely new meaning depending on your mood and your growth as a person.

That being said, choosing to own a song or an album is a decision most make thanks to at least some outside influence. The vinyls on your bookshelf, the cassettes in your glove compartment, the CDs in your binder and the MP3s on your iPod all tell a story. Who you are, what’s your style, where you’re from. Since we can control the content of our musical memoirs, we cater our library towards fulfilling the profile we want to assume. The Shins and Shyne are neighbors in my iPod, so you can tell I’ve spent time as both a wanna-be gangsta and a wanna-be hipster.

When Spotify first landed Stateside, James Allworth wrote a post for the Harvard Business Review blog entitled “Why I’m Not Going Near Spotify (And Why You Shouldn’t Either). He made the obvious point that we consume music differently than movies or TV shows, and that paying a subscription fee could leave the library you build at the whims of a company known to make Netflix-like price hikes.

Allworth misses the point for millenials. We’re the generation that first stole music. We never really owned it because, in order to justify our giant thievery corporation, we had to trick ourselves into believing music wasn’t really “ownable” in the first place. A hard drive crash could wipe out our entire life’s savings of beats and tunes at any time. Losing our library? No big deal. We’ll just recreate it, but better this time. Transferring my CDs to my iTunes gave me that opportunity once, and I wouldn’t mind another round of Spring Cleaning

Spotify satisfies an on-demand culture’s musical cravings while simultaneously allowing us to posture in ways YouTube never could. Since users have to link their activity to their Facebook profile, they know damn well that all of their friends will see each and every song they choose to listen to. Each click of the mouse comes after the user weighs two factors: will I like this song, and what will others think of me “liking” this song?

In other words, nothing’s really changed.