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Monday
Nov082010

Bury Me In My Jersey

Bury Me In My Jersey: A Memoir of My Father, Football, and Philly

Tom McAllister

Villard Books, 2010

I used to consider myself a pretty big Eagles fan.  Knowledgeable, passionate, and long-suffering, like so many others who call Philadelphia home.  But after reading Tom McAllister’s Bury Me In My Jersey, I feel like a bandwagoner who needs to be reinitiated.  In his first book, a memoir, McAllister pours fanaticism onto the page like a blitzing Eagles defense.  While detailing the often painful history of the franchise, he also comes to terms with his own pain, interweaving his story of self-discovery with the evolution of the team.  Coping with the loss of his father, who first taught him to love the Eagles, McAllister struggles to make sense of his obsession and how it shaped his identity. 

Bury Me In My Jersey is an honest, thoughtful book that tackles issues of manhood, grief, isolation, and love within the unique context of sports fandom.  While McAllister’s experiences are particular to Philadelphia and the Eagles, the challenges faced and lessons learned reach beyond provincial allegiances.  Anyone who knows the zeal of a true fan or has felt the loss of a loved one can relate to this story. 

As most people who follow the NFL might know, Philadelphia Eagles fans have a certain reputation throughout the country.  And while there is no mention of Santa Claus in Bury Me In My Jersey, there are plenty of scenarios that lend credence to the allegations that Eagles fans can be a rather unruly bunch.  But McAllister writes with such wit and self-awareness that even accounts of some of his more questionable behavior serve as points of insight and enlightenment.  One can’t become a man without making the mistakes of a boy, right? 

One of my favorite aspects of McAllister’s writing is his frequent use of footnotes.  They act as a sort of aside that allows for a deeper glimpse into the author’s thought process, often providing a chuckle along with their extra information.  Funny moments abound in Bury Me In My Jersey, and are helped along with some creative descriptions, my favorite a reference to former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi as “date rapist smug.”  McAllister crafts some really great sentences, which can either make you laugh out loud, start to tear up, or just nod your head in appreciation as you reread them. 

I’ve read a lot of memoirs, and even studied them as a literature student, but this is the first time I have actually known the author personally.  I was a classmate of McAllister’s for eight years, we are still friends, and there are even a couple oblique references to me in the book.  This fact did allow me to appreciate some of the stories and references in a more personal way, but as a student of the genre, it intrigued me even further to analyze how McAllister recounted certain events with which I was familiar.  It was fun to think about what I would have included, left out, or emphasized if I had been writing about the same event.  The experience reiterated my love of memoir for its inherent subjectivity, and I felt like I was learning about Tom from a completely different angle.

Bury Me In My Jersey is an impressive example of modern memoir, especially for the distinct perspective achieved through the lens of Eagles fandom.  It’s a must-read for any Philadelphia fan, but is absolutely rewarding on many other levels.  The struggle to overcome grief, to learn how to be a man, and to own one’s identity is a journey that transcends football, and can teach each of us something about our own life story. 

Tom McAllister will be reading portions of Bury Me In My Jersey, as well as signing copies, this Wednesday, November 10, on campus at La Salle University.  The event, sponsored by the English Department, will start at 6:00 p.m. in the atrium of the Holroyd building.  

Monday
Sep202010

Apartment Hunting in Philly

If moving into a new apartment is the worst ordeal ever, hunting for that apartment might be a close second.  As you may know, I've recently relocated to the Philadelphia area, and as much as I enjoy spending time in the town and house in which I grew up, I need to get into the city, fast.  After five years living in a city as vibrant as Chicago, suburban Lansdale just doesn't cut it. 

Several factors limit my choices when it comes to finding an apartment in Philly.  First and foremost is budget.  I'm in the enviable position of looking for a job and an apartment at the same time.  So while I'm able to put a deposit on a place today, I want to make sure I can stay there for more than two months. 

Right now, I'm looking for a one bedroom in the $800-900 range.  I've committed to getting a place on my own, because even though I've had good roommate experiences in the past, I feel it's time to live by myself.  This automatically makes an apartment more expensive, and most likely smaller. 

This price range eliminates some neighborhoods in Philly right off the bat, because even though real estate here is not as pricey as New York or Chicago, it's still a major city with many desirable neighborhoods.  So, based on prior knowledge, friends' advice, and some research, I limited my search mostly to the following areas - Fairmount / Art Museum, Graduate Hospital, Northern Liberties, and Passyunk Square.

The next factor is demand.  I'm not the only one who realizes these are cool neighborhoods with good bars, restaurants, shops and necessities like pharmacies and supermarkets.  So many of the apartments closest to the hot strip or whatever are not going to be opening up anytime soon.  This has resulted in the "fringing" trend, as I'm naming it right now, of people renovating apartments that are just at the edge of these cool neighborhoods and advertising how close they are to all the cool stuff, when in fact it's a tiny box of a place eight blocks from anything good. 

That brings me to another fun factor of apartment hunting - Craigslist.  Unless you're looking to buy a condo or live in a high-rise, you don't tend to go through real estate or management companies.  That leaves me dredging through the same shitty listings every day on Craigslist, trying to find that one shining gem that indicates a good space in a good location with a sane landlord.  This can be frustrating, but I can't hate too much on CL considering how useful it's been to me. 

Compromise is key when choosing an apartment, because with my limitations, I'm not going to be living like royalty anytime soon.  I've seen enough bad apartments to know a good one when I see it, and I'm ready to make a commitment quickly if that's what it takes.  But I have two lists when I look at an apartment, my wish list and my dealbreaker list. 

My wish list includes things like a roof deck or patio, central air, and heat included.  My dealbreakers include no laundry in building, old appliances, and not enough space.  I've seen apartments that have a lot of space, but look like a squatter's been living there.  I've also seen apartments that are in a great location, but are basically a bedroom and a kitchen.  It's tough to find that balance. 

So, I'll keep diligently getting out there and looking at places, and I hope to move into an apartment in Philly sooner than later.  I'm ready to find my new home.

I'd love it if you share any tips on apartment hunting in general, resources in Philadelphia, or lessons learned the hard way in the comments below!

Thursday
Sep162010

An Evening with CAKE

If you heard the word "vibraslap," and immediately thought of something used in the bedroom, then you're a freak and we should hang out.  But if you pictured a Latin percussion instrument, then you were probably at the CAKE concert last night at the Mann Center in Philadelphia. 

An Evening with CAKE provided a fairly thorough retrospective of the band's impressive catalogue, and concertgoers were treated to two sets of John McCrea's semi-spoken, quirky lyrics and Vince DiFiore's well-punctuated trumpet riffs.  And of course, plenty of vibraslap.

John McCrea of CAKEThe concert kicked off just before 8:00 p.m., as the band took the stage in front of a large silkscreen image of a whitecapped mountain, to the tune of some epic synth-rock.  The show started strong, with "Comfort Eagle," "Frank Sinatra," and "Wheels," which nicely touched on three different albums.  After the customary greetings and fibbing that Philadelphia was the first city McCrea's ever called "excellent," the energy came way down with their Willie Nelson cover "Sad Songs and Waltzes."

Thankfully, crowd favorite "Stickshifts and Safetybelts" brought the tempo back up, and I learned that the song apparently is actually about road head and the obstacles thereto.  Next the band debated the afterlife of domesticated animals with Prolonging the Magic's "Sheep Go to Heaven."  This song initiated a bothersome trend for the evening, with McCrea elongating the final chorus by dividing the crowd and pitting them against each other in a barnyard shout-off.  

McCrea must really be into the politics of power, because on two other occasions, including a new track called "Song of the Sea," he encouraged the crowd to sing louder by intimating that the other side thought they were weak, or even that they hated them.  For a concert that was supposed to be about "hanging out, having a good time," these Machiavellian demonstrations were a bit off-putting. 

I wasn't too worried about all that, however, when CAKE closed their first set with "Jolene," played with a sweet restraint appropriate for this moving song off their first album, Motorcade of Generosity.  Definitely my favorite song of the night.

After a short break, while most were still re-upping on beer, the band returned and launched into Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," which I didn't realize was on their B-Sides and Rarities album, so that was a fun surprise.  The second set seemed to go by quickly, with the band chugging through "Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle" and "Love You Madly," which was better live that one would think. 

Before the set wound down, McCrea stopped for what I learned is a nightly occurrence at CAKE concerts - giving away a tree!  Yes, a real live sapling.  After pledging to plant the tree, upload a photo to the band's website, and take care of the tree for decades to come, a lucky gent came up on stage to claim it.  I thought this was a pretty unique tactic, and highlighted the band's environmental consciousness, also evident in the fact that their personal studio, where they now record on their own label, has been fitted to run entirely on solar power.  Looks like even rock bands from California are going green. 

After that whole process, the crowd needed a reason to explode, and they got it with a smashing rendition of "Never There."  Minutes later, the encore kicked off with "Short Skirt, Long Jacket," which had the Chuck fans in the audience happy, followed by "Mexico," and of course, closing the night with their biggest hit, "The Distance." 

Overall, CAKE put on a great show that highlighted the evolution of their unique sound over two decades and five albums.  The band sounded great; props to lead guitarist Xan McCurdy for keeping the riffs tight.  And I really want to know how McCrea gets that signature sound from his acoustic guitar, which I can only describe as "woody." 

As for stage presence, McCrea was very comfortable in his front man role, but definitely too chatty for me.  He even called out a girl in the front row for saying "Stop talking" during the encore.  I do like when bands interact with the audience, but McCrea took it a bit too far.  However, the band sounded great, it was a beautiful night, and the crowd was really into the show.  I am happy to put a notch in my concert belt for a unique and hard-working band like CAKE, and I'll be looking out for their new album on January 12. 

A few other notes:

  • Don't buy tickets for Orchestra B, Row B.  You will be behind the light and sound boards and will have to stand the whole time.  Also, don't try to walk behind those boards or the usher will bitch-slap you.
  • Shaking my head at Mann Center security, who allowed a guy to hop up on stage, walk casually over to John McCrea, and shake his hand before anybody realized what was going on.  That kind of stuff is pretty scary.
  • Big shout-out to whoever drives the Mini Cooper with the vanity plate "CAKE."

Favorite Songs: "Comfort Eagle," "Jolene"

Wish I heard: "Commissioning a Symphony in C," "I Will Survive"

Monday
Sep132010

Getting My Fix

Last week, I wrote about when things break, in which I revealed to the world some of my hang-ups about the inevitable destruction of everything we love in this world househould items.  Today, thankfully, I am feeling much more upbeat as a result of some successful fixes, namely, the resurrection of two computers.

I mentioned in the comments to my last post that I distinguish between objects like glass lamps that can be shattered irrevocably in an instant and items like cars and computers, which tend to die slow deaths.  One main reason for this distinction is the ability to repair these hunks of metal and electricity.  Thanks to some internet searches, troubleshooting forums, and a DIY attitude, I am typing this entry on a 2004 Dell desktop that now boasts a brand new hard drive. 

Now, I'm not a computer whiz, but it's funny how much I've learned about computers while trying to keep this antique running.  I've learned about AGP vs PCI slots, the limits of Video Cards and the importance of drivers, the difference between IDE hard drives and SATA, and how to pair matching memory cards when upgrading RAM.  So even if I won't be hacking into the Pentagon any time soon, I am a lot closer to being able to build a computer from scratch if I choose to in the future. 

I'm sure some of you would ask, "Why don't you just buy a new computer?" or "That's why I have a Mac," and while exploring those options would be nice, I just don't have the funds for that kind of expense right now.  Plus, the point of my efforts is not only to save money, but to use my head, hands, and search engine skills to fix a solvable problem.  The satisfaction of a clean Windows install and 500 GB of fresh hard drive space surpasses the knowledge that I've kept this machine running for six years by spending only about $250, minus labor.  

My Mr. Fix-It success was not only limited to hardware upgrades on this machine, however.  While waiting for my replacement hard drive for the Dell, I started messing around with a 2005 HP laptop my dad picked up at work.  The original owner had taken the hard drive, so there was no operating system on the machine.  Once I popped in a compatible hard drive and purchased a power cable, I was able to start messing around with Linux. 

I had zero experience with Linux, which is essentially a group of operating systems available for free use.  The Linux experience and community are rooted in a commitment to open source software, i.e. free.  This sounded good to me, as opposed to paying over $100 for a Windows license.  

Again, thanks to the wonders of internet tech forums, I determined that I would be able to install Ubuntu, the latest Linux distribution, on this old machine, but that there would be limits due to memory and graphics specs.  I learned all about how Linux arranges files, that it does not have traditional "drives" like Windows, and that the system encourages command-line customization.  I was quite impressed with the clear language and sensible approach of this software.  I thought I had everything right, but I was still getting a hanging black screen during bootup.  After a little more digging, I found that I needed to input a specific command to force Ubuntu to push past the limits of the old graphics card.  So then I find myself hacking into the kernel, modifying the "grub" file, and crossing my fingers.  Seconds later, bam!, I'm running Ubuntu on an ancient laptop.  I now have a working laptop that will be just fine for blogging from the coffee shop or surfing in front of the tv, at a total cost of around $150. 

Again, the satisfaction goes beyond the cost saved.  That feeling of achievement that comes from tackling an unfamiliar problem, gaining new knowledge, and making useful what was once useless is equally as powerful as the negative emotions that come from things breaking.  So while it was great to learn new things about the interaction between hardware and software, and to now have two computers that are fully functional, the real success here was the triumph of will and intellect. 

For me, these everyday experiences allow an examination of how we approach challenges in our lives.  The results, I think, speak to the resilience of human nature, that even though we are susceptible to anger and shame when things are beyond our control, we are also capable of hard work and ingenuity to take back that control.  And as long as those lessons go hand-in-hand, the universe hasn't won yet.

Wednesday
Sep012010

When Things Break

It could have been worse, I suppose.I’m not a particularly clumsy person.  In general, I don’t go around bumping into walls or dropping things that are easy to carry.  Lately, though, it seems I’ve had a run of poor coordination and plain bad luck. 

In the past week, I’ve managed to break three household items beyond repair.  They weren’t heirlooms or items with special meaning, but I still felt those familiar emotions – shame, guilt, and anger. 

The first item was the bottom of a butter dish, broken by dropping a salt shaker onto it at the dinner table.  Medium crash, several jagged pieces of ceramic.  Easily replaced by the matching base from the gravy boat, rarely if ever used. 

The second incident also took place in the kitchen, and is the one that makes me feel dumbest. How impatient do you have to be to use a large kitchen knife to try to separate frozen hamburger patties?  Well, let’s just say, the few minutes it would taken them to thaw would be less of a hassle than replacing the knife whose blade tip snapped off under seemingly little pressure.  The burgers, when cooked, were definitely not worth that kind of sacrifice.  But again, a kitchen knife is easily replaced. 

The third item is the hardest to replace, and thereby the hardest to swallow.  While attempting to clean a dusty torchiere lamp, I mistakenly thought the painted glass top was screwed into the metal base, and upon tilting the lamp a bit, I watched in horror as the top of the lamp fell 3-4 feet onto the floor, exploding into jagged hunks and slivers of glass.  That was a tough cleanup job, made more painful when I discovered that the lamp was probably 75 years old, originally bought by my grandmother.  It wasn’t anything too fancy, but the realization stung all the same.  Let’s hope a few internet searches can find a suitable replacement.

What led me to write this post wasn’t the significance of the items themselves, but the emotions that resulted from breaking them.  I think everyone can identify with that moment of realization, when you’re looking at a debris field of broken glass, and hopelessly exclaim, "Really?"

There are not many experiences that more clearly drive home that feeling of hopelessness, the knowledge that some things can’t be undone, than breaking something without hope of repair.  Even if it’s something easy to replace, the frustration that comes when chaos unexpectedly enters a perfectly orderly moment is one of the most primary emotional experiences.  Perhaps I’m more sensitive than some, but I feel genuine guilt for actions caused by my hands, even if a complete accident.  My normal careful attitude is meaningless when thrust up against gravity and entropy, two of the most destructive forces in the universe.  At these times, no matter the amount of regret one may feel, all you can do is grab the dustpan, pick up the pieces, and move on.